I spent Thanksgiving with some good friends in Baltimore, and was tasked with bringing the turkey (and also an alternative dessert, Pear Spice Cake with Walnut Praline Topping. Do it.). Having never cooked quite that much meat before, I was a little apprehensive. I picked up a turkey breast just slightly over 6 lbs from Andy’s Eggs & Poultry, and figured even if I didn’t do much to it, it’d be good since they are pasture raised and ethically cared for, and therefore taste better to all of us Omnivore’s Dilemma types.
In terms of actually cooking the meat, I knew I wanted to try brining it. In case you’ve never searched for brining recipes let me tell you, everyone has a different way of doing it and has different opinions on how long to brine and the ratio of salt to water to pounds of meat. There are discussions about how much of what kind of salt, since table salt and kosher salt and sea salt will measure out differently and are different levels of salty. It was just a bit anxiety-inducing to read all of these posts and dire warnings about over-brining your turkey — after all, you can’t take salt out. That said, I did learn that most of the point of brining was that the salt helps the meat pull in and hold more moisture. So it’s not necessarily going to make it super salty unless you leave it sitting too long or use way more salt than you should in the brine (or in whatever else you do while preparing it).
Given that, I started searching specifically for brining turkey breasts, as not having to scale the recipe down made me feel like there would be less room for chance. And I was very relieved when one of the first hits I got was from good old Betty Crocker: Best Brined Turkey Breast. My BC cookbook has never produced a bad dish, and so I immediately decided to go with this recipe for the brine and the roasting.
That said, I did of course make a couple of modifications. Many of the brining recipes I’d seen added things other than salt to the water — those flavors are then infused into the meat as it brines. So, I decided to throw in some dried rosemary and thyme, to echo the fresh herbs that it’s roasted with, as well as some pepper and a crushed clove of garlic. And you’ll notice the recipe doesn’t call for a particular kind of salt — I used kosher salt. I let it sit in the brine for about 15-16 hours and then followed the recipe to roast it (although I substituted chicken broth for the white wine, as I didn’t have a bottle already open, and didn’t want to use anything I had around for this). The turkey cooked up in about two hours, and as I look at the recipe again, I realize that I never flipped the breast over. This doesn’t seem to have made a huge difference; I did notice that some of the parts at the bottom were ever so slightly pink, but certainly not to the “I won’t eat that” point, and I imagine flipping it would have taken care of this. I will say that it turned out a lovely golden brown and definitely lived up to its looks: The turkey was moist, with a great flavor, and was a hit with the other omnivores at the table.
This was a really easy way to make a great centerpiece for the meal, and I recommend giving this a try next time you make a turkey. As I don’t have a big stock pot, I brined mine in a roasting bag. It did leak a little bit, as there were a couple of tiny holes in the bag (possibly from stirring the salt around) but they were on the bottom so it didn’t lose too much liquid. And even if it had, it was in a dutch oven so there wasn’t a mess to clean up. I didn’t bother to flip the breast over, as most of the recipes I saw instructed (I would have had to get up at 3ish to do so, no thanks), and I don’t think it made much of a difference. With an entire turkey, or with a breast that wasn’t entirely submerged, you might not want to skip that step.
Anyway, it was a great experience to get to do this, and I have to say, if you have ever wanted to cook a large hunk of meat just to say you’ve done it, this is a great starter. It’s gotten me thinking about hosting Thanksgiving some year, although it’ll have to be some year in the future when I have a table that seats more than two people.