Zen and the Art of Brining

Perhaps a lost art form in many kitchens, brining is the most basic of all marinades. A brine is salt, sugar and water, at its simplest. It is the art of infusing meat for a juicer, more flavorful result.

Not familiar with brining meat? You’ve probably eaten plenty of it. Most all conventional Thanksgiving turkeys are brined before they are even shipped to the supermarket. Corned beef is brined, as are many prepared cuts or pork and chicken.

In the context of this post, we will focus on turkey. Almost any artisan turkey you procure from a small family farm will be fresh-frozen and unadulturated, meaning it has not been brined ahead of time.

While a local, pasture-rasied turkey does indeed buck convention (99% of all turkeys are raised in factory farm settings), brining is a convention that has enormous value – and should not be thrown out like the proverbial baby and the bath water.

When a turkey is submerged in a solution of salt and sugar water, the salt and sugar are drawn into the meat, as is some of the water. This helps the turkey retain moisture while cooking. The salt and sugar also help the skin brown and – almost – start to caramelize.

Brining is a fun process, similar to any culinary skill that we choose to master – baking bread, brewing beer or making homemade cheese or pasta.

And when approaching any new task, it is important to do it with the right mindset. As the Minnesota author Robert Pirsig quoted from an eastern technical manual, “Assembly of Japanese bicycle requires great piece of mind.” This is true with brining meat as well.

Once your peace of mind is summoned, however you choose to do it, the second step is to gather family and friends together. A least one other person. A bottle of wine is opened and enjoyed and the somewhat comical process of preparing the brine and nestling the turkey into it, launches the week of Thanksgiving festivities.

Here’s a rough timeline of turkey preparation before Thanksgiving:

Saturday before: Begin thawing turkey in Refrigerator for 72 hours.

Tuesday: Soak turkey in brine solution for 18-24 hours.

Wednesday: Remove turkey from brine solution, rinse and pat dry. Refrigerate until cooking.

Thanksgiving Day: Prepare turkey as you normally would.

The #1 problem that most first-time “briners” run into is an end product that is too salty. Because of this, the recipe we are going to share uses less salt than normal. If you are already familiar with brining, or already have a recipe you typically use – then discard the following recipe and fly free! For those of you new to brining, below is our “adapted” recipe you can follow, borrowed from the wonderful book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

Always feel free to reach out with any questions or suggestions!

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