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November 21, 2012

To Brine or Not to Brine? Molly Stevens Weighs In


On the radio yesterday, a local deejay gushed about the beauty of Butterball turkeys — namely, that the bird's breast has already been injected with liquid that bastes the bird as it roasts, rendering brining unnecessary.

I heard this while I was on my way to Norwich's Hogwash Farm to pick up the lanky, organic 10-pound bird that now rests in my refrigerator. Brining is a messy, laborious task; but after last year's pasture-raised bird (from another farm) emerged from my oven kinda dry, I wondered, is this the year I finally wade into saline waters?

Proponents of brining — or soaking the turkey overnight in a salt bath — swear that it helps achieve penultimate moistness. I decided to ask Molly Stevens, the local cookbook author whose most recent work — All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art — tackles this very question, and won a James Beard award to boot.

"I think it's a huge hassle," said Stevens as she drove to see family in Pennsylvania. "I also don't like the idea of introducing tap water into the turkey. I've done side-by-side taste tests, and it actually tastes a little watered down and bland."

Stevens says that the key to a moist turkey is pre-salting the skin with kosher salt. As a rule of thumb, she measures out 1/2 teaspoon of salt for every pound of turkey, then rubs all over the bird's skin at least a day or two before Thanksgiving. "As the turkey sits in the refrigerator, the salt will gently permeate the meat, improving the water-holding ability of the muscle cells so that, when cooked, the meat stays juicy yet does not become overly salty," she wrote in a blog post last year.

Other tips: Don't stuff the turkey. (It lengthens cooking time and probably won't allow either to cook evenly). Let your bird come to room temperature before roasting, and roast for about 12 to 13 minutes per pound. After you take the bird out of the oven, let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour before carving — this vital step allows the bird's juices to migrate back into the meat. (These are the Cliff Notes; visit Stevens' site for the full rundown.)

And what if you do everything right and still end up with a dry bird? Relax — there are ways to mitigate it. The post-roasting rest is critical, points out Stevens, and you can also use some turkey stock to save the day. "Use it to anoint and moisten the meat," she advises. "Carve it, and then just spoon over a litle bit of the warm stock."

Above all: Remember to turn on the oven. Happy turkey!

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