Monday, November 21, 2011

Friends-giving (and Maple-Cider Brined Turkey with Bourbon-Cider Gravy)

Yesterday, we got together with some friends of ours here in the Bean Town held a 'Friends-giving' Celebration. Basically an excuse to have a preview of the real Thanksgiving coming on Thursday. And thank goodness for Thanksgiving. (Can I get an amen for a 5-day weekend?)

I volunteered to take bird duty, and we hosted it at our house. I'm no stranger to cooking turkeys... back in college, we held an annual 'Thanksgiving Extravaganza' for our cross country team. I always made the bird (sometimes even two!), and everybody else (25+ people) supplied all the sides and desserts. It was always a great time.

Thanksgiving Extravaganza circa 2009
Things always got a little crazy.
Back in college, I didn't really focus on preparing a delicious, beautiful-looking turkey. I just wanted it to be edible and not make anybody sick. (And when you're cooking for college boys, they don't really know the difference between succulent, moist turkey and plain ole' turkey covered in gravy.)

But this time, I wanted to do it right. One of my friends, Sarah, tackled her first Thanksgiving turkey this past week, and she outlined it step-by-step on her blog. (Check it out here!) She used a brine, and had great results, so I thought I'd try the same thing.

A brine is basically a salty, herb-packed liquid that a turkey (or any meat) is soaked in for 18-24 hours in order to help maintain moisture and flavor while cooking. 

We prepped the brine (apple cider, maple syrup, salt, cloves, pepper, orange rind, rosemary, and bay leaves) and had to figure out where to store a 21-lb. turkey so it could soak in the brine and also stay in the refrigerator.

Solution? Trash bags! (Thanks to Sarah for the tip.) I know they make brining bags... but why spend money on that when you already have something perfectly suitable? We doubled up two kitchen trash bags, placed the turkey in, and poured the brine all around.

We had some issues with the trash bag flopping around everywhere, and the brine not coating the turkey, so we found an easy solution. We plopped the trash bag into a cardboard box, and into the fridge it went!

After brining for about 20 hours, we got the turkey ready for cookin'. The recipe called for an herb butter to be spread all between the turkey skin and meat. And this is where I called on my Business Man for some assistance. (Actually, he volunteered... I guess massaging a turkey breast with butter-covered hands sounds like fun?)

So, he spread the herb butter all between the skin and meat, and after stuffing the cavity with some apple slices, orange wedges, garlic cloves, and fresh herbs, it went into the oven!

4.5 hours later, we had turkey! After letting it rest about 30 minutes, I carved it up and we were ready to eat.

Check out the spread! It was all soooo delicious, as was the time spent with friends. Always good to catch up over a good meal. Unfortunately I forgot to get out my camera so I have no more pictures... :(

So, if you're still looking for a turkey recipe for this Thursday, I highly recommend this one from Cooking Light. Yes, it has bourbon in the gravy... and yes, you will probably run into someone you know from church while purchasing it at the store. (That actually didn't happen to us, but we got a few comments like, "What are you you two going to do tonight?" from some random Wal-mart goers...)

Maple-Cider Brined Turkey with Bourbon-Cider Gravy

  • For the brine
    • 2 quarts apple cider
    • ½ cup kosher salt
    • ½ cup real maple syrup
    • ¾ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
    • ½ teaspoon whole cloves
    • ½ orange rind, cut into slices
    • 2 rosemary sprigs
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 gallon cold water
  • For the turkey
    • 1 12-lb. turkey, fresh or frozen & thawed
    • 3 tablespoons softened butter
    • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
    • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
    • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 apple , cut into wedges
    • 6 garlic cloves
    • 1 rosemary sprig
    • 1 sage sprig
    • ½ orange , cut into wedges
    • ½ onion, cut into wedges
  • For the gravy
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
    • ¼ cup finely chopped onion
    • ½ cup apple cider
    • ¼ cup bourbon
    • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour


To prepare brine, combine apple cider through bay leaves in a large stockpot over high heat; cook 6 minutes or until salt dissolves, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; add 1 gallon cold water. Cool to room temperature.

To prepare turkey, remove giblets and neck from turkey. Trim excess fat; add turkey to brine. Refrigerate 18 to 24 hours, turning occasionally.

Preheat oven to 375*F.

Remove turkey from brine; discard brine. Pat turkey dry. Starting at neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat. Combine 3 tablespoons butter and next 3 ingredients in a small bowl; rub butter mixture under loosened skin and over breast and drumsticks. Lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under turkey. Place apple and next 5 ingredients (through onion) in the body cavity. Secure legs with kitchen twine. Place turkey on the rack of a roasting pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. Place rack with turkey in roasting pan. Bake at 375*F for 1 hour and fifteen minutes. Cover turkey loosely with foil; bake an additional 45 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 165*F. (This is just for a 16-lb. turkey; different size turkeys will take different amounts of time.) Remove from oven; place turkey on a cutting board. Let stand, covered, for 20-30 minutes.

To prepare gravy, reserve drippings & broth from turkey. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add rosemary and onion; saute 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup cider and bourbon; boil 3 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Combine 1/4 cup turkey broth and flour, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture, one more cup of turkey broth with some drippings to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 4 minutes or until thickened. Serve with turkey.

Source: Cooking Light


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