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Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Bird Is the Word

To be honest, our family isn't big on turkey. Not to say that I don't enjoy turkey tettrazini or turkey sandwiches with a healthy dollop of cranberry sauce, but turkey just wasn't part our diet when I was growing up. Later in life, my own experiments to introduce turkey to my family produced dry, tasteless results. However, that all changed since I came across this recipe in the San Francisco Chronicle. I feel that it is by far the best turkey I've ever tasted. It gets rave reviews every year, even from the non-turkey eating members of my family, and has so convinced me that brining is the only way to go.

Best Way Brined Turkey
Serves 6 to 8, with leftovers

1 turkey, about 12 pounds

1 cup sugar
1 1/2-1 3/4 cups kosher salt
2 1/2 gallons cold water
2 bay leaves, torn into pieces
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
5 whole allspice berries, crushed
4 juniper berries, smashed (see Note)

2 tablespoons softened butter + butter for basting
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 cup chicken stock, or more as needed

Clean the turkey by removing the giblet bag, any extra internal fat and any pin feathers. Rinse well under cold tap water.

Combine the sugar, salt and 3 to 4 quarts of water in a large bowl. Stir until the sugar and salt dissolve, then add the remainder of the brine ingredients except for the remaining 1 1/2 gallons water.

Double-bag two heavy-duty, unscented trash bags (not made of recycled materials), then put them in an ice chest that is large enough to hold the turkey. Place the turkey in the doubled bags, pour in the brine, then the remaining 1 1/2 gallons of water -- there should be enough liquid to completely submerge the bird. Press out all the air in the bags, then tightly close each bag separately. Keep the turkey cold with bags of ice, which will also help keep it submerged in the brine. Brine for 12 to 24 hours.

Alternate method:
Instead of using an ice chest, place the turkey and brine in a large pan or bowl and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. If the turkey floats to the top, weight it down with a plate and cans to keep it completely submerged in the brine.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse and dry well. Spread 2 tablespoons softened butter over the skin and sprinkle the pepper over the skin and in the cavity.

Tuck the wing tips under, loosely truss the legs and place the turkey on a V-shaped rack in a roasting pan. Tent the breast with foil and place the turkey in the oven.

Roasting note: To assure that the bird cooks evenly, rotate the roasting pan 180° every 30 minutes while the turkey is in the oven.

Roast for about 1 hour, remove the foil and baste the turkey with 1/2 cup stock. Return to the oven and roast, basting with pan drippings and more stock (if desired) every 20 minutes. Start checking the internal temperature after about 1 hour of roasting time. If the legs begin to get too brown, cover them loosely with foil. Roast the turkey until the internal thigh temperature reaches 165°. Total roasting time should be about 2 to 2 3/4 hours.

Let rest for at least 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

Note: Juniper berries are available in the spice section of some supermarkets and grocers. I bought mine at Whole Foods.

I'm Vietnamese and seafood is a huge part of our diet. In honor of this tradition, my family prepares a seafood spread, as well as a turkey, every year at Thanksgiving. It is a lot of work, but totally worth it in the end. One of the easier and absolutely delicious appetizer dishes we make is Spicy Baked Crab. I admit that it's a bit messy to eat, but that's the fun part too...Get everyone a bib and create a great photo op for your holiday card.

Spicy Baked Crab
Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main dish

1 live Dungeness crab
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (if kids are eating, just use a little less)
Squeeze of Lemon
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons melted butter
Lemon wedges

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the crab and cook for 13 minutes. Drain and cool to room temperature. To clean the crab, remove the top shell, carapace, and lungs, and rinse with cold water. (We Vietnamese love to eat the crab tamales so I always scrape if off for another side dish that we make.) Separate the legs and crack them with a mallet or nutcracker. This can be done several hours ahead of time - simply keep the crab well chilled until ready to use.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Using a mortar with pestle, pound the garlic into a smooth paste with a little salt. (If you do not have a mortar and pestle, just smash the garlic first and put the garlic between parchment paper and pound lightly with a rolling pin or pan.) Stir together the garlic, paprika, cayenne, lemon juice, olive oil, and melted butter in a small bowl. Taste for salt and spiciness, and adjust as needed.

Preheat the oven to 425°. Arrange the cracked crab legs in a baking dish. Using a pastry brush, paint the legs with the sauce. Roast the crab for 12 minutes until it is heated through and sizzling. Transfer the remaining sauce to a ramekin. Serve the crab with lemon wedges and dipping sauce.

Great eats, everyone! (Had to pay homage to Alton!) The Three Bay B Chicks wish you and your family well during this holiday season!

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Anonymous said...

I hope its not insulting to say that I had a hard time reading this post because I was so hung up on the thought of the Turkey Tetrazini you mentioned in the beginning, LOL. Mama knows what's for dinner tonight kiddies! LOL; Great recipes.

Blessings, Whitney

wendy said...

oh I have to make that crab - crab is one of my favorite things to eat. I always wonder if that is wrong considering my last name.