Cooking the Thanksgiving feast can be a daunting task, but don't panic, at least not yet. There are 11 days before the big meal, plenty of time to consider these suggestions that we think will make your feast preparation a little less stressful.
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Brining meat and poultry for taste and moistness has been around a long time, but companies such as Fire & Flavor Grilling Company have made it more interesting.
Brining is a process that greatly improves the flavor and moisture content of lean meats such as chicken, turkey and pork.
Here's how it works: When meats are marinated in a solution of sugar, salt and water, the proteins unwind and form a hollow tube. Water travels into the tubes and becomes trapped, adding moisture to meats, according to Fire & Flavor.
The company recently sent samples of its Turkey Perfect herb brine mix and brining bag to newspapers around the country. We decided to try this product. We asked Gena Knox, chief executive of Fire & Flavor, if a turkey breast would work, because we weren't really in the mood to cook an entire turkey just yet. She said to use half the product and to brine it for less time, about 6 to 8 hours. She also suggested stuffing the turkey breast with orange slices, crushed garlic and fresh herbs.
"It is so rewarding to hear the comments from my friends and family after tasting their first brined turkey," Knox said. Learn more about the product at www.turkeyperfect.com.
Simply add water and white sugar to the mix, and heat it. Place the brining bag in a large container and add the turkey. Pour the warmed brine mixture over the turkey, and add cold water, making sure the entire turkey is covered. Seal the bag and place the container in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, remove the turkey from the brine and, if desired, rub the herbs from the bottom of the bag onto the turkey. Bake according to instructions on the turkey wrapper or go to Kentucky.com for turkey-roasting tips.
The brining really did work. The turkey breast meat was juicy and tender, the best we've ever had.
GET THE TURKEY OUT OF THE ROASTER
Another product we tried is the Sili Sling from William Bounds. It made lifting the turkey breast from the pan to the platter very easy. It would be ideal for removing a large whole turkey from the roaster. It's $20 from www.wmboundsltd.com.
Kuhn Rikon has a new potato ricer that will make fluffy mashed potatoes. The ricer extrudes long, light strands through a stainless steel disk. It holds one large or two medium-size potatoes and costs $20. It's available at specialty stores or www.factorydirect2you.com.
THE TIGHTEST SEAL
Leave it to Reynolds Wrap to come up with an idea that will make saving Thanksgiving leftovers easier. The new Handi-Vac vacuum sealer sucks the air out of a bag to eliminate freezer burn. The starter kit comes with a vacuum sealer, three-quart size freezer bags, and batteries. This little gadget is ideal for making dishes in advance.
The cost is $9.99. Extra bags in 14-quart and 9-gallon sizes are $3.29. They are reusable. See how it works at www.handivac.com.
A TURKEY BASTER
One gadget we wished for while roasting the turkey was a baster. That's a necessity for getting that nice brown touch. The one we like is Oxo Good Grips. It has a flat bulb to prevent the baster from rolling on the countertop. It's $9.99 at Linens `n' Things, and we'll buy it before we cook our next turkey.
What is brining?
During the cooking process, meat can lose as much as 30 percent of its water. Properly brined and cooked meat can reduce the water loss by as much as one half.
Brining solution works by unwinding meat proteins, opening them up to form a matrix that traps water. When herbs and spices are added to the brine, the flavors are trapped in the meat. This technique is called flavor brining and greatly enhances the texture, flavor and juiciness of meats.
Will brining make the meat taste salty?
Unless you brine for too long, your meats will not be salty. The salt causes water and flavor to travel into each strand and fill up the hollow proteins, allowing the meat to hold in moisture and flavor.
BRINING TIPS AND TRICKS
After you remove the meat from the brine solution, many of the herbs and spices might have settled to the bottom. We recommend rubbing the those settled flavorings directly onto the meat just before cooking. This step really maximizes the flavor.
You can always add more flavors to your brine by stirring in fresh herbs, citrus slices, or other seasonings into the brine when heating. Substituting fruit juice, beer or wine for some of the water also will add flavor.
Do not brine a turkey that has been "basted," "enhanced," "marinated," or is already classified as kosher.
Do not brine a turkey if you plan to deep-fry it.
If you bought a turkey with a pop-up timer, leave it in place. If removed, the timer will leave a hole for juices to escape.
Brining takes up precious refrigerator space. You might want to rearrange your refrigerator shelves ahead of time to make room for the brining bird.
If there is no room in your refrigerator for a huge bird, use a cooler lined with a turkey-roasting bag. Make sure the water temperature remains below 40 degrees throughout the process. You might want to add ice.
If you are going to brine your turkey for 4 to 5 hours, use a brine proportion of 1 cup coarse kosher salt to 1 gallon water. Coarse kosher salt is recommended because it completely dissolves in water.
If you are going to brine your turkey overnight, or as long as 14 hours, use a proportion of 1Z2 cup coarse kosher salt to 1 gallon water.
You can brine any size turkey. The key will be to ensure that you have a large enough container and enough brine to keep the turkey submerged.