Monday, November 18, 2013

Brine, Brine, Brine That Turkey!

Since we are roughly 10 days away from Thanksgiving, I thought I'd post my brine chart and my turkey brine solution with a Hispanic twist so you can start planning ahead, and brine, brine, brine that turkey!

Think it's too much of a hassle? It's not!

Or are you scratching your head wondering what the heck is brining? Read on!

Brining is the process of soaking a protein, such as chicken, in a salt & sugar water solution.  Ratios of salt to sugar vary but I prefer the 3:2 (salt:sugar). It's the secret many chefs probably don't want to share.  It's cheap and at it's very basic form requires nothing more than a container, water, kosher salt and sugar. Sometimes I will use brown sugar, honey, molasses in place of sugar. You can also use any type of juice, beer, wine, stock in place of the water or a combination of these liquids with the water. You can also add in onions, herbs, chilies or any other aromatics you have lying around.  Click here for a larger version of the chart below.

Let's look at the science behind the brine. The salt in the brine cause the protein to relax and unfold.  Some of the meat's cell moisture flows into the brine and the brine flows into the meat's cell.  That's simple osmosis. The salt relaxes the protein so much that the meat actually holds even more water which creates moisture. Which gives you super flavor, over-all textural improvement and a very moist piece of meat.

I generally brine everything, except red meat (red meat I dry brine but that's for another post), before I cook it. And by everything I mean all poultry, shrimp, some fish, lobster and pork. Nowadays, it's just the Hub and I that I cook for, but I still brine. If I have 4 chicken breasts, I put them in a covered container with 2 quarts of cold water, 3 tablespoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and let them sit in the brine for up to 6 hours in the fridge. Same holds true for pork. It truly makes a big difference in moistness and flavor. Don't have 6 hours? Even if you brine for 60 minutes or less, some brining is better than no brining.

And that brings us to the Thanksgiving Day turkey. Short of deep frying your turkey ... if you want a flavorful, super moist bird, putting your bird in a brine is the way to go. I don't care how much butter, seasonings or rubs you put in your turkey, some part of it, mostly the breast meat, will be dry or flavorless or both. Here is my turkey brine solution with a hispanic twist. Brine the defrosted turkey 24 hours before cooking.

Turkey Brine Solution with a Hispanic Twist

2 cups kosher salt
1 cup of sugar (granulated, brown or even stevia - if you need to watch your sugar intake)
2 heads of garlic smashed  and roughly chopped - you can leave peel on
3 tablespoons of toasted and mashed* cumin seeds
3 tablespoons black peppercorns, mashed*
4 tablespoons of dried oregano
4 tablespoons of cumin powder
3 large onions roughly chopped
2 quarts of sour orange juice - if you don't have any locally, here's how you can "make your own sour orange juice". Or you can use the bottled version, just read the ingredients list to make sure it doesn 't have unpronounceable additives.
2 quarts white wine - doesn't have to be expensive, just drinkable
2 quarts of chicken stock
2 quarts of water
1 - 14 to 16 pound young turkey
1 styrofoam cooler or a 5 gallon paint bucket from yr home improvement store
10 pound bag of ice

Place all the ingredients in a large stock pot (one that holds 4 quarts or more). Bring to a boil and allow to boil until salt and sugar have dissolved. Turn heat off, cover and allow to come to room temperature.

Place 1/2 of the ice in the bottom of your receptacle, add your cooled brine solution and lastly the turkey. Cover and brine for 24 hour. Add the remaining ice as needed throughout the brine time. Keep that turkey cold at all times. If you use the paint bucket instead of a cooler, you will probably need more ice to keep it cold. The styrofoam cooler is the way to go for me. I have one cooler set aside that is used soley to brine large pieces of protein.  I also like to use one construction grade plastic bag to line the cooler and I think it keeps it colder too, but you don't have to do this. Turn your turkey over at least once during the brine time, more if you can.

Recipes notes: 
To mash the cumin seed and peppercorn, place in a freezer zip bag, and bash with the smooth side of a meat mallet or a rolling pin.
Toast your cumin seed in a dry pan over medium-low heat. Keep your eyes and nose on it. When it starts to become fragant, remove from heat immediately.

And as always get creative and experiment - the possibilities are endless.


  1. I've always wanted to try brining but I usually don't plan ahead enough and I don't have a large enough container for a turkey. I love the brine chart so I can try this with smaller meats. This sounds delicious.

    1. I started brining a few years ago, and when I realized what a difference it made, I actually started planning ahead. But even if you can brine for a few hours, it makes a difference. As to the container a big 5 gallon bucket or a Styrofoam cooler are perfect for big pieces of meats. For small pieces zip bags are the way to go!