One of the great highlights of the holiday season is the roast dinner on Christmas Day. While a variety of meats are used, turkey and chicken are among the most popular. If you would like the juiciest and most flavourful bird you ever had, be prepared to take a few extra steps.
BRINE THE BIRD
This process is similar to marinading. It involves cold salted water. The benefits is that it makes the meat more tender, juicy, and reduces cooking time. It is worth the time and effort. Here is a simple recipe:
1. Container: Use any container large enough, provided it is not aluminium. Even a large plastic bag in a bucket (or on its own) will do, provided it is tied up during brining.
2. Ingredients: Put 6 litres of water in a container. Then, in a separate jug, add 1 litre of boiling water and dissolve 200 grams coarse salt and 200 grams sugar. To this mix you can add quartered lemons or oranges, a sliced onion, spices like cinnamon sticks or cloves. Combine it all with the cold water.
3. Process: Cover the pot or tie the bag and let brine 12-48 hours.
4. Remember: The bird needs to be covered. Avoid too much salt if you are brining more than a day.
5. Refrigeration? This is not necessary. The key is to keep it in a cold place, which includes the porch or garage. Add ice, ice packs, or anything else that will maintain coldness.
6. Removal: This should be done 2 hours before cooking. The bird should be dried internally and externally, gaining room temperature before stuffing and baking.
A. Temperature: It is important that the oven is pre-heated. Turn on to maximum temperature. When it is time to roast, reduce the temperature to 180 C or 350 F.
B. Position: Place the bird upside down and roast uncovered. Baste every half an hour. Once the bird becomes lightly browned, then cover with foil. Only in the last hour turn the bird right side up.
C. Ready? Use a meat thermometer (75 C) or cut a portion - the juices should be clear. If pink, you need to roast longer. Or try the ‘wiggle test,’ if the legs wiggle easily, it is done. If they are stiff, roast some more.
D. Extra tips: Why not try 1/2 cup of maple syrup poured on during the last 30 minutes. You can ‘self-baste’ by soaking muslin clothe, double or tripled folded, in unsalted butter. Apply before roasting and only remove the last 30 minutes.
E. Rest: Let the bird ‘rest’ after roasting on the counter, covered, for about 30 minutes. This keeps the cooking process going. Use a warmed up platter to cut and serve.
Accompany with salad, a variety of roasted vegetables, and home-made gravy.
Yes, there is a little extra effort involved with brining and roasting. But when you see the delighted looks in your dinner guests’ faces, it’ll be worth it.