Pretentious And Simple Turkey Brine
I never cared much for turkey when I was younger unless it was just being used as the vehicle for the plethora of gravy to be had. The turkey leftovers always made a great soup that didn’t last long in our full house with six kids running amuck. I was usually a fan of the sides of broccoli rice casserole, minted carrots or dressing/stuffing, depending on the personal ritual of the individual who calls it what they will.

My mother is a wonderful cook & always has been. Not just the ridiculous amounts of pie’s we would have at our Thanksgiving table; apple pie, apple cake too, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, sometimes blackberry & huckleberry pie as well that were frozen in bags by plentiful. All were homemade & the most important ingredient was love... the next most important ingredient; kicking all six kids out of the kitchen so they would come out right. Some of my favorite memories as a kid was climbing the apple trees in the yard & picking the right ones to be made into apple pies or a personal favorite of mine, apple butter. Or the hot summer days we would take whimsical excursions with wheelbarrows, yes plural, all around the property & beyond in search of blackberries one day & huckleberries another. The days with blackberries we would set out in the morning before the heat set in on the day, comb the property & then move on to another neighbors property & then another. It took half a day of all of us kids & my mom scouring the bushes & picking all of them. Nevermind the little scratches we were getting on our mitts that were stained from the berry juice, as were our faces from tasting them. Days of huckleberry picking were similar, with less scratches, fewer berries & just as stained. We would come back with wheelbarrows, as well as buckets, overflowing with our berries collected & pride. We set out on the day with hope & returned with stained faces, hands & clothes with love in our hearts & the anxious understanding that a pie was being concocted in the near future. Whew, I digress.

One Thanksgiving, almost twenty years ago, my mother served a brined turkey that was the most heavenly one I’ve had until then & maybe since then. Her gifts in the kitchen are always strong & eager to learn something new. She was caterer at one point & a source of envy amongst her friends. She read a newspaper article that told stories of all the benefits, including saving time, which was a need for our big family. And wow, the result was that of enhanced flavor, juiciness, tenderness & who needs a gravy with all that savor? Ok, we still had a boat of gravy, but it barely got touched that year. I can’t say it enough, it was a game changer.. It has been responsible for the transformation in my own cooking, as well as the enjoyment from clients, friends & family ever since. 
A lot of recipes out there call for sugar in a brine that helps with the browning of the skin & I avoid it. Instead I add some fresh squeezed orange juice for browning & flavor. And, when I think of my shopping list, I sing the Simon & Garfunkel song, “Scarborough Fair” in reference to “Parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme” & I substitute garlic for parsley, making it; garlic, sage, rosemary & thyme. I’m a nerd & I’m proud to be one.
Here’s my recipe here:

1 12-16 Lb turkey of choice, give or take
1 cup sea salt or kosher salt
1 bunch of thyme (6 sprigs +/-)
1 bunch of rosemary (6 sprigs +/-)
1 bunch of sage (6 sprigs +/-)
1/2 bulb of garlic, peeled & smashed
2 oranges, zest removed & juiced
1/4 cup whole peppercorns
2 whole nutmeg, cut in half
4 quarts of water (= to 16 cups)
First, you want to prepare your turkey by removing it from it from whatever wrapping & removing the additions that might be inside (neck, gizzards, heart & liver). Then rise the bird with cold water & place in your food safe brining container, breast side down. I use a large stainless steel stockpot that has plenty of room for it to steep in.
Next, you want to measure out the salt into a large pitcher is what I use, but feel free to use a bowl. Add 1 qt of hot water, hot tap water is perfectly fine at the hottest setting. Stir up the salt & hot water to dissolve the salt. Then add the peppercorns, the whole nutmegs cut in half, garlic, the zest of the oranges (save the juice to add later), the bunches of sage, rosemary & thyme. Adding all of these to the hot water after the salt is dissolved will help to release oils & flavor, making the brine more flavorful. Once all ingredients are in the hot water & stir one more time. Then add enough ice to cool it down, about 1 or 2 cups worth, agitating the seasoned liquid.
Pour over your turkey in the stockpot or food safe brining container. Add the other three quarts of water over the turkey as well as juice from oranges. If it’s not completely covered with water at this point, add more water starting with 2 cups at a time, combined with 1/8 cup sea or kosher salt dissolved. Use this calculation until the bird is fully covered with liquid. Once completely covered with liquid, agitate the seasoned brine & swirl the bird in the liquid for a couple minutes making sure the bird is breast side down. Store covered in the fridge for 12-24 hours. Pour out brine, pat dry, roast & enjoy. -Darby
*Recipe Notes*

  • I always recommend getting a bird that’s organic, free range, free from hormones & the most natural as possible.

  • 1/8 cup sea or kosher salt dissolved into 2 cups of water or 1/2 quart of water is a basic brine recipe or additional brine liquid needed for adding to brine to cover bird entirely. If all you have is salt & water, use this calculation as your brine.

  • DO NOT use iodized, table or caking agents in salt.

  • Make sure to use food safe, BPA-free plastic, stainless steel metal or glass, for brining the turkey.

  • A brined turkey has more flavor, a bit more saltiness, so the need to add salt to your seasoning on the bird is unnecessary. Having said that, I still put a tiny bit of salt, mostly herbs, pepper, garlic & butter.

  • A brined turkey can cook faster, so instead of the general rule of 12 minutes per pound in an oven at 325 degrees, a brined bird can be more like 10 minutes per pound in a 325 degree oven
*Health Bennies*

  • Because it’s so full of flavor & juicy, there’s less of a need & desire for gravy on your bird, reducing the fat & sodium intake.

  • Pride in the most flavorful & juicy bird anyone has ever had.

  • Bragging rights to friends, family & that mother in law you need to impress.

  • More free time for things in the oven because of the faster cook time, as well as more time for you to enjoy with your friends & family.