Tuesday, November 22, 2011

To brine, or not to brine?

Incidentally, this is actually a chicken I recently brined before roasting. But you get the idea.

Turkey day grows closer by the second (hooray!) and if you're like me, you're busy dreaming about how delicious the day's feast will be.  Since heading home to the newly-minted Peachtree Corners (go, Mom!) for the day is a bit of a hike (Mr Turvy has to work on Friday- ugh!), we'll be sticking around Boston to celebrate Thanksgiving with my in-laws.  They're cooking for a crowd and I've volunteered to bring mashed potatoes (surprise, surprise) and my grandma's butterhorn rolls (recipes to follow). Has anyone had butterhorns before?  They're a bit of a hassle to make but are buttery and sweet and delicious and well worth the effort. 

Several years ago, I cottoned on to the idea of brining a turkey. If you've never had the pleasure of brining a turkey before- DO. IT. THIS. YEAR. (I'm giving you a few days head start to assemble everything you'll need). Seriously, you won't regret it.  When I first brined a turkey for my family's Thanksgiving a few years ago, it blew our minds. I'm not exaggerating, either.  For the first time in the history of Thanksgiving turkeys, this one was melt-in-your-mouth juicy and we couldn't get enough. That go-round, I used this recipe for Herb-Roasted Turkey from my favorite of favorite cooking websites, Epicurious. I used the herb butter and basted with chicken stock and pan juices instead of apple cider and didn't end up making the apple cider grazy.

A few tips for cooking your bird:
-The brining process can take up to 48 hours, so get started asap! You need at least 15-18 hours to brine the turkey and at least twelve hours afterwards for it to sit on a rack in your fridge, uncovered
-When you brine, it helps to put the brine mixture and the turkey in a small (like the ones for a bathroom sized garbage can) garbage bag tied at the top so no liquid can escape and do all of this inside a stockpot
-Remove the little white temperature thing that pops out (which I neglected to do on the above chicken). It isn't always so helpful at giving an accurate temperature reading.
-A word to the wise, cooking stuffing inside of a brined turkey can make things awfully salty, so make an extra batch of stuffing to cook independently of the bird (and mix the two together). And if you're cooking stuffing inside of the bird, inserting it en masse into a cheesecloth (tied at the top) will make it infinitely easier to scoop out of the cavity once the turkey is done.
-If the turkey breast/tips of wings and feet start looking too brown, pop on some aluminum foil to nip the browning in the bud.
-If your turkey doesn't come with one of those metal things to hold its feet together, find some string and tie them yourself. And if you're really feeling fabulous, give your turkey fancy booties that look like chef hats
Tres chic. Your fancy friends will be impressed.

Any questions?

Since I still have beaucoup de time on my hands, in addition to a crockpot curried chicken for dinner (recipe to be posted later- provided it turns out), I've gotten a jump on Thursday's mashed potatoes. It's hard to keep up the potato fluffiness by fixing them two days in advance, but you can roast the garlic ahead of time with no adverse effects. (A head of roasted garlic can be refrigerated for a week in an airtight container). Roasting garlic takes about 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven and is easy-peasy if you follow these steps.

Roasting garlic in 5 easy steps
1. Set your oven to 400 degrees
2. Peel some of the excess layers of skin off the head of garlic, so it looks like this
and lop off the tip of your head of garlic to make it easier to rescue the cloves once it's roasted, comme ca:
Look Ma, no tops!

3. Place the garlic in aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil (about 1 T) and sprinkle with salt and pepper
4. Pinch the aluminum foil closed around the top of the head of garlic and pop in the oven for 45 minutes (I like to rest the garlic atop a square of aluminum foil just in case any oil leaks out)

5. Remove from the oven and enjoy. If you're using it immediately, remove individual cloves from the head using a fork. If you're using it within the week, store, cut-cloves down in olive oil in an airtight container. 

Now that you've got the garlic roasting part down pat, here's the recipe for the potatoes I'll make on Thursday. These aren't exactly figure- friendly but will definitely impress your guests on special occasions.

Roasted garlic mashed potatoes with crème fraîche
Serves 8-10
4 pounds russet or yukon gold potatoes, peeled, rinsed and diced into 1/2" cubes
8 T butter, unsalted (I like to use unsalted butter to moderate the amount of salt when I'm cooking)
5 T crème fraîche
8 c water
1 head of garlic (or 12 cloves), roasted (see directions above)
1/2 c milk (use whichever milk you buy- you can use light or heavy cream if you have either handy)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Boil 8 cups of water on high heat.  Add potatoes and cook until they hold their shape but are easy to smush (not in a Jersey Shore way) or bite (about 15 minutes). Drain the potatoes (don't rinse), add garlic and mash using a mixer, old-fashioned masher, ricer (whatever gives them the texture your pretty little heart desires). Add butter, crème fraîche, milk, and salt and pepper to taste and continue to mash/stir until everything is well-blended. If you're making these ahead of time, pouring 1/4 cup milk or cream on top of the potatoes before you cover them will keep them fluffy when you need to reheat before the big feast. Hope you love these potatoes as much as I do!!

A note on the creme fraiche- un produit de France, it's relatively similar in taste and consistency to American sour cream (not quite as delicious but will work as a substitute in a pinch) and can be found in the dairy or deli section of your local grocery. You may have trouble finding it at grocery stores like Ingles, Stop & Shop and Shaws but I've had luck finding it at specialty markets, gourmet grocers and Trader Joes. I've also only ever found one brand that sells it, Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery and it looks like this.
Happy Turkey Day, y'all!

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