Chow Town

This Thanksgiving, it’s turkey brined in buttermilk, apple cider

Updated: 2013-11-25T20:26:26Z

By JASPER J. MIRABILE JR.

It seems everyone is brining turkeys these days for their Thanksgiving table.

So, I went to work in my culinary lab and developed a great brined turkey recipe, using local buttermilk and apple cider.

The actual art of brining a turkey is an ancient tradition. People around the world used salt, water, herbs and spices to preserve meat long before refrigeration.

It should be noted, the heavy concentration of salt on preserved meats was not out of the ordinary for those who took long ocean voyages or who fought long military campaigns.

Today, brining has a new purpose. There’s no real worry about not having refrigeration, and by using salt, along with spices and herbs, we can now seek to produce a much more flavorful and tasty bird.

After reading about brining and its long history, I wanted to find out the real chemistry behind brining turkey, or really any type of meat. I found that by immersing the turkey into a liquid with a higher concentration of salt, the brine is absorbed into the meat with the salt and water mixture. Because the meat is now loaded with extra moisture, it will stay that way as it cooks.

There are a lot of studies on the scientific part and most people say it is osmosis. But if osmosis occurs, it would take the moisture out of the turkey. There is a different chemical process going on, which is called denaturing — when the salt penetrates the muscle fiber of the meat, causing it to relax. Meat proteins are complex and when the sodium and chloride ions get into the muscles, any electrical charges combine with the proteins, and hold onto moisture.

Wow, now I am really confused. But I understand enough to realize that after brining this is truly going to be a very moist turkey.

It is also to be noted that a properly brined turkey loses about 15 percent of its weight after cooking, while a non-brined turkey loses 24 percent of its weight. If you do the math and science, that means the brined turkey will be about 12 percent juicier.

After all this, I have decided that not only is our Thanksgiving turkey all about cooking and tradition, it’s also all about math and science - something I can honestly say I cheated on in high school, so this is all very new and interesting to me.

It is very easy to brine and the results are truly noteworthy. The turkey turns out very moist and flavorful - tender as can be and the moist meat will melt in your mouth. There really is a huge difference between a brined turkey and one that’s not brined.

I use milk in my brine instead of water, for two reasons: One, the milk mixed with the salt helps penetrate the turkey, thus increasing the moistness. And two, it cuts down on the saltiness of the finished product.

Notice in the recipe below that I also do not use any sugar in my brine, but instead I use apple cider. After experimenting several times, I have found apple cider adds juiciness and a fruity flavor with an added touch of sweetness to offset the saltiness.

I have decided to go one step further and finish my turkey with bourbon and Karo Syrup. This gives the turkey a nice appearance, while at the same time adding lots of flavor.

Please note: The drippings from the turkey will be saltier, and therefore your gravy will also be saltier.

And so my friends, there you have it: my newest recipe that, with a little bit of experimentation, makes for a wonderful tasting, very moist turkey for your Thanksgiving enjoyment.

I am sure your family will enjoy this recipe and remember, like most of my recipes, I’m just giving you the ingredients and instructions. If you want to add more salt or season with something different, by all means, go ahead.

I am also giving you one of my other recipes for a cornbread stuffing that I’m sure will make a great complement to your brined turkey.

Mangia bene - eat well and enjoy - and have a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving!

Jasper Mirabile’s Buttermilk & Apple Cider Brined-Roasted Turkey

For the brine:

4 tablespoons Kosher salt

2 quarts Louisburg Cider Mill Apple Cider

2 quarts Shatto Buttermilk

4 tablespoons whole peppercorns

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 whole orange peel

1 tablespoon allspice (optional)

For the turkey:

12-14 lb. Fresh Hen House Turkey

Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

1/2 pound butter

2 shallots, quartered

2 apples, quartered

4 stalks celery, Cut into thirds

4 sprigs fresh thyme

4 ounces bourbon

1 cup Dark Karo Syrup

To prepare the brine: place all ingredients in a bowl and mix. Remove gizzards, neck, livers and heart from turkey. Reserve for gravy. Place turkey in a large food-safe plastic bucket or brining bag. Add brine mixture. Refrigerate for up to 18 hours.

To roast the turkey: Preheat oven to 375. Remove turkey from bucket or brine bag. Rinse turkey. Pat dry. Place in roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Soften butter and set aside. Fill cavity with quartered shallots, apples, celery and fresh thyme. Brush butter on top of turkey. Season top of turkey with more salt and pepper, if desired.

In a separate bowl, mix Dark Karo Syrup and bourbon and set aside. Cover roasting pan with foil and roast, every half hour basting turkey with glaze. Remove foil the last 30 minutes of roasting and brush with Karo, bourbon glaze. Place back in oven to brown. Turkey will be ready in 3-1/2 to 4 hours. Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the fleshy part of a thigh registers 165 to 170 degrees.

Remove from oven and let cool 15 minutes before carving. Tilt turkey in pan to drain remaining juices from cavity before removing from pan. Place on carving board and cut.

Kansas Cornbread Dressing

For the cornbread:

8.5 ounces corn muffin mix

3 eggs

1/3 cup milk

1 tablespoon sugar

For the dressing:

3/4 cup celery, chopped

3/4 cup onion, chopped

1/4 cup butter or more, if desired

16 ounces chicken broth

6-8 slices dried white bread

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon dry rubbed sage

To prepare the cornbread: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8-inch cake pan with butter. Mix all ingredients. Pour batter into pan and bake 25 minutes. Cool and crumble mixture. Set aside.

To prepare the dressing: In a large sauté pan, add butt. Melt on medium heat, adding celery and onion. Cook until onions are translucent. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add sage. Add 1/2 chicken broth and fold in crumbled cornmeal, from above, adding dried, torn bread. Add more chicken broth. Grease baking dish and add all together. Bake 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees until golden on top. Remove from oven. Serve.

Chef Jasper’s notes: This is the perfect and easiest dressing for your Thanksgiving table. Add sautéed mushrooms, diced apples, cranberries and/or roasted-local chestnuts, if desired.

Whether you are calling it dressing or stuffing, that’s up to you, but this is truly a Kansas-style corn bread stuffing.

Enjoy and have a wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner!

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.

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