Cider-brined Thanksgiving turkey

The rich tradition of a thrifty Thanksgiving

Originally appeared in the November 24, 2011 edition of the Southside Times.

Courtesy Bon Appetit, 2011

So you’ve probably heard the news—according to an agricultural economist with Purdue University, this year’s Thanksgiving dinner may cost 5 to 6 percent more than last year.  And an annual Indiana Farm Bureau survey indicates that dinner for 10 people may look more like 8 percent.  The same economist from Purdue says that for the turkey, consumers should expect to pay 3 to 7 cents more per pound.  Wonderful.

But fear not.  If cooks have anything to be Thankful for, it’s the ability to conjure culinary magic in the face of economic adversity and potato inflation.  More after the jump:I wrote about brining last year, and—because the results are so succulently rewarding—I’m confident you’ll appreciate this season’s poultry permutation.  Cider-brining is a popular technique that brings a touch of autumnal nuance to the typical Thanksgiving table.  This version was inspired by chef Anita Lo, who shared her “red-cooking” methods in the latest edition of Bon Appetit magazine.

Not unlike the rich tradition of making room for more, creative types—in addition to selfless volunteers and other kind-hearted types—know how to make magic happen during the holidays.  Be thrifty, be thankful.  And Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader.

Cider-brined Thanksgiving turkey

  • 1, 12-14 pound turkey
  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 1 cup kosher salt (plus more)
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 16 whole black peppercorns
  • 8 whole star anise pods
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 6 scallions, whites only, split lengthwise
  • 6, ¼″-thick slices unpeeled ginger
  • 2, 3-4″ cinnamon sticks
  • 2 sprigs cilantro
  • 1 ½ gallons cold water
  • As needed, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup orange juice plus 1 cup apple cider
  • Zest from ½ fresh orange
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, cut into sixths
  • As needed, melted butter (for basting)

1.  In a large, 16-quart pot or pan, bring cider, 1 cup of salt, and next nine ingredients to a boil; stir to dissolve salt and sugar.  Let cool to room temp.  Stir in 1 ½ gallons cold water.  Add turkey to brine; cover and refrigerate overnight (you may want to look into a brining bag—it keeps things tidy in the fridge).

2.  Adjust oven rack to lower level, and preheat oven to 375° F.  Remove turkey from brine; pat dry with towels (you can get rid of the brine now).  Season cavity with kosher salt and cracked black pepper.  Truss legs with kitchen twine, and place on a v-rack in a roasting pan.  Allow to stand at room temperature for about an hour.

3.  Combine 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup apple cider, and 2 cups water in roasting pan; scatter apples in pan as well.  Thoroughly brush turkey with melted butter, and flip breast-side down (this will help prevent the tender breast meat from drying out).  Roast turkey (basting occasionally) for 1 hour; now flip bird breast-side up.  Roast (basting with melted butter from time to time) for an additional 1-1 ½ hours, or until thickest part of the thigh registers 165° F.

4.  Remove turkey, transfer to platter, and let stand for 20 minutes before carving.  Meanwhile, strain pan-juices, reserving apples.  Simmer liquid until mixture has thickened; add orange zest.  Serve cider jus alongside turkey and garnish with apples.

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