My dry-brined and herbed turkey looks like the loser in a mud wrestling contest.
A nice rinse and a pat dry and he's looking like a contender again. I sprinkled with a new coat of herbs and put it in the refrigerator, uncovered. This drying day will help the skin get nice and crisp.
Dry-brining's easiest moments are the three days of sitting and waiting, while molecules work their magic. The salt has dissolved and the salty water is on its way into the turkey, sodium ions towing water, raveling (or is it unraveling) proteins, making places where water will remain, giving us a moist, seasoned turkey dinner.
The massaging is probably just because a cook can hardly leave something alone for three days.
Step one is to prepare the arena. Wash your hands and set out all the materials and tools you will need. Once your hands are in the poultry, best not to rummage through the kitchen drawers. When working with poultry, always assume it's contaminated and wash well any surface or implement that touches the bird.
I try to work one-handed, handling the poultry with only my left
hand, leaving the right hand clean for handling spice containers and such. That's hard to do with a 20-pound
turkey but if you can manage it, there's not as much hand-washing.
In the picture, you see the still-wrapped turkey, a storage container to
receive the neck and innards, a small bowl with the salt-herb
dry-brining mixture, a knife, and in the back, a plastic bag in a large
point, ready to receive the bird.
Make your dry-brine mixture, which is one tablespoon of kosher salt (half as much if you use table salt) per five pounds of turkey. For my 2-pound bird, that worked out to 4 tablespoons (which is 1/4 cup) of kosher salt.
This year, the dry-briners reported that herbs in the salt work, so I am trying it. I added about 3/4 as much herbs as salt. That's a lot and I will let you know how it goes. I used a blend of Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning (mustard, sage, rosemary, thyme, and garlic) plus some grocery-brand poultry seasoning.
Prepare the bird. Unwrap the bird. Discard the liver and put everything else — neck, gizzard, heart — a food container. Cut off the last section of each wing and add that to the container.
Rinse the turkey. Pat dry with paper towels and use them to soak up any water in the cavity. You don't have to do a thorough job.
Sprinkle 1/4 of the mixture inside the cavity, spreading it around as best you can. Sprinkle the rest on the outside of the bird, especially on the breast and thigh, where the meat is thick. Drop the bird into the plastic bag and sprinkle in any remaining herb.
Seal the bag and refrigerate for three days. A couple of times a day, massage the bag to help redistribute the spices. (I doubt this matters much but it probably helps the turkey relax.)
In a post earlier today, I warned you that you need to get your bird thawed pronto if you plan to dry-brine.
In an update to the article that made dry-brining popular, Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times food writer, says:
My first major discovery came after several e-mails asking whether it
could be done with frozen turkeys too, rather than adding three days of
defrosting time onto the three days of dry-brining. It seemed like a
good idea, so we tried it in the test kitchen and it worked perfectly.
So no longer do you have to buy your turkey a week in advance. Just
rinse the frozen turkey in cool water (to start the defrosting
process), pat it dry and salt it. Then proceed just as you would with a
fresh turkey. By the time it's defrosted, it'll be seasoned and ready
I'll add one little caution: Your bird will need some thawing, since you have to be able to pry the neck and organs from the cavity! A few minutes in the microwave and an hour at room temerature will probably suffice.
He offers an additional time-saver, adding flavoring with the salt:
I rubbed a turkey breast with a mixture of salt ground
with minced fresh rosemary and grated lemon zest. Yup again, great
flavor, with just a hint of rosemary suffusing the breast meat. The
lemon zest was barely detectable.
He claims the flavor penetrates the meat, something I've not found to work with wet brining. He contacted Zuni Cafe's Judy Rodgers, who originated the dry-brining idea, and reports she is in enthusiastic agreement, mixing crushed herbs with the salt.
First: Check the wrapping and to see if your turkey is "packed in a solution." If so, then it's already brined and you don't want to brine it again. If not, please do brine.
To dry-brine (my present favorite method), you need a thawed turkey on Sunday. (You can cheat it a day.) If you get a frozen bird today, it's too late to thaw in the refrigerator for brining tomorrow but you can thaw it in a water bath. Leave the bird wrapped as you got it from the store. Microwave for five minutes to give it a head start, then dunk in cold water. Let water trickle in for a steady exchange, or change the water every 30 minutes. Use cold water and keep the turkey itself from getting above 40 degrees F.
Or, buy a non-frozen bird.
If you're not ready, you can wet-brine a day or two before. Just make sure your turkey is thawed by Wednesday. Allow a day for every five pounds, meaning that if you have the bird in the refrigerator this weekend, a 20-pound bird will be ready.
I have a tradition of declaring Ra Pa Pa Pum day — the first day each year I hear that song — you know the
one. Two years ago, it was at Starbuck's in November. Last year, it wasn't until December 21, in a commercial for some new movie. This year, it was tonight, background music on some show. I didn't even notice the
song right away, but Kathy pointed it out (same as last year, actually). She heard it a few says ago and says it counts. Not likely, dear.
The worst part is that damn song sticks in my head (the way it's getting stuck in yours right now).
In Chicago for business with an evening to spare, my thoughts went to Top Chef Masters winner Rick Bayless, a top chef who has taken Mexican cuisine to haute cuisine. My destination: Bayless's Frontera Grill, one of three restaurants at the same address downtown.
Yes, you read that right: three of his restaurants — upscale Topolobampo, informal Frontera Grill, and Xoco cafe — are side by side, commanding most of the block. "Commanding" is perhaps not the right word, as the places are quite unassuming.
Only Topolobampo takes reservations but it was a Wednesday night before 6 — how busy could it be?
Very busy. A table would be two hours. But there is a counter next to the kitchen and a seat would be available there at 6:15. That gave me a half hour to soak in the ambience and a margarita.
The bar is large, noisy, and hopping. People were from all over. I talked to an engineering professor and his RN wife from Pennsylvania, in town and at Frontera on the strong recommendation of a friend. Many others were there as a result of Top Chef Masters.
In the back, a hallway had newspaper and magazine reviews from all over the country. And nine James Beard awards. Nine.
In the front was a traditional display of Mexican folk art, skulls and such that celebrate the Day of the Dead. (I seem to recall this is a tradition but don't remember what it is called.)
(Click photos for full size.)
In among the items, close to the center of the middle shelf, a tiny photo in a frame caught my eye:
At 6:14, I was seated and the service began with a small bowl of spicy, not hot, nuts. The menu is large, and it all looked fabulous. I was tempted by the enchiladas mole (I love a good mole, the Mexican sauce made of a complex blend of chiles and a dash of cocoa. I rarely find a good one). But the weekly special had me: Cochinita Pibil: Achiote-marinated Maple Creek Farm suckling pig roasted in banana leaves. I later learned people come there over and over, for that dish.
Bayless had long wanted a wood-fired oven and as he acquired the neighboring spaces, he finally had the room. I was about to savor its product.
The service was fast and efficient. Talking to the couple seated next to me, we noticed that management was invisible. We wondered how a place this busy could seem so effortless. Later, I met Kevin, the manager, and we talked for some time about how the place came to be. Much of the feel of the place is from Bayless himself who is as generous and caring as he seems on television. Committed to sustainable agriculture, he supports a network of farms and fish purveyors. His Top Chef Masters award went to his Frontera Foundation. A regular farmer's market, held in the restaurant, also supports this work.
I asked if they see him often and Kevin told me he is in every day. You can tell that the people here are committed to quality. They work hard and seem to love their work.
The entreé arrived and I am sorry the picture is not better. Under the garnish of lightly picked onions and queso was a slow-roasted pork, succulent and booming with flavor, with crisped edges where the meat was exposed to the hot air. The roasting takes all day. Worth the wait. It swims in a sauce of natural juices atop a banana leaf. It is served with delicate tortillas that are rustic and I presume are made on premises.
When the waiter placed the dish, he warned me — twice — that it's very spicy. The dish wasn't very spicy, though. Wait, perhaps he meant the little bowl of sauce. I dipped the edge of a tortilla. Next came ten minutes of tears and sweat and drinks of water. Next time, I will listen more carefully!
I rarely have dessert because I seldom leave room but here, in the kingdom of a master chef, I had to. The duo of creme caramel, suggestively topped with pomegranate, was delicious and refreshing, though I have to say the duo of flavors were too lightly applied to be discernible, the only defect of the evening.
I was willing to pay handsomely for a meal like this but surprise: it was about $60 including two drinks and dessert! Most entrees at Frontera Grill are under $25.
The dinner was complete and I was ready to go. Or perhaps not... Xoco was in my future. I will tell you about it soon.
Serious Eats Serious Eats is another blog which plants its stake, and its steak, in the fertile land where food meets science. There is lots of great material here, much of it by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, or Kenji. If you like FeedMe, you will like Serious Eats.
Cooking for Engineers What do you get when you apply the engineer's mind to the kitchen? Straightforward, practical recipes and tips and a passion for simplifying without sacrificing quality.