We won’t lie: a Thanksgiving turkey with cranberry sauce, stuffing and the whole shebang consumed on a certain cold November night is not a part of traditional Russian cuisine. That is not to say Russians have never heard of or eaten turkey. As a matter of fact, turkey is quite popular in Russia where it’s called Indeika (Индейка), some say for the same reason Native Americans used to be called Indians.
Whatever you call it, it still needs to be cooked and the number of recipes is endless. Some of the recipes are even claimed to be closely guarded family or corporate secrets. A fundamental question anyone put in charge of this year’s turkey feast needs to answer is to brine or not to brine. We’ll leave the entire discussion about pros and cons of brining and how it works out of this post and just say we brine our turkeys, whether they like it or not. Some supermarket turkeys come pre-brined (in other words injected with a solution of secret chemicals through a thousand needles).
Another question is whether a frozen turkey is good enough to impose on the family and house guests. A New York farmer recently told us their turkeys are so fresh (they take advance orders and never freeze the birds) and good they come out soft and juicy without any brining and additional tenderizing efforts. That statement is yet to be tested although we agree wholeheartedly it’s always best to start with the freshest products. You are what you eat, or so we’ve heard. While the debate is ongoing we thought we’d put our 2¢ in and share our own turkey recipe.
But before we start we need to get a few things out of the way.
Stuffing. Guess what! We don’t have a recipe for that and don’t encourage making it. We do enjoy a greasy calorie-laden meal from time to time but this is where we draw the line. Russian Recipe Book has red lines, too. Soaking salty bread crumbs in lots of saturated fat is not our idea of longevity. But if you do it anyway, remember it’s better to cook stuffing separately and not inside the turkey because it may not end up cooked thoroughly. Salmonella is not known to prolong lives and improve your health, and you’ll need all your strength in just a few hours on Black Friday, the day when the weak and the sick perish in the stampede. Retailers count on you; don’t let them down now!
How to brine. Turkeys are pretty big and heavy, and it’s often not easy to find a container where the bird would be completely covered with brine and that would fit inside your fridge. Giant stockpots, buckets of all sorts and Ziploc bags all can work although imagine the nasty spill if a bag splits open. Whatever plastic bag or container you use for brining, make sure it’s food grade. For example, you can put a huge food-grade plastic bag as a liner inside a clean paint bucket. Garbage bags are not usually food grade. You don’t want nasty carcinogens wash out of the industrial plastic and get inside your turkey.
Cooking methods. For this post, we slowly cooked a 14 lb. turkey for 4 hours in a stainless steel basket inside a vertical infrared oven. It came out very juicy and generated lots of compliments. Being realistic and knowing you probably won’t run out and spend a bunch of cash on a new cooking appliance just to make your annual turkey feast we’ll leave it up to you. Roast in an oven basting occasionally, impale it on a giant motor-driven skewer or even deep fry it – do whatever you want as long as you cook it thoroughly. FDA recommends safe internal cooking temperature for turkey to be at least 165oF. Some chefs claim that number is too high and makes the meat tough but we cooked our turkey to 173oF without any issues with tenderness. Cooking thoroughly didn’t turn it into a piece of rubber. Maybe those chefs should look for better turkey suppliers; we’d be happy to introduce them to that NY farmer. Don’t play games with your health. Remember Black Friday is not waiting for anyone although there is always Cyber Monday… if you live to see it.
Side dishes. Sauces, cranberries, leftover carved Halloween pumpkins – anything goes.
Warning: Don’t give turkey skin, greasy drippings and other unwanted parts to your dog. Sparky may get pancreatitis and even die. Your bank account will die, too. Veterinarians enjoy holiday shopping and will gladly do it instead of you after accepting your cash, check or credit card.
With that in mind,
- 3 quarts water
- 1 cup Diamond Kosher Salt
- 1 cup Light brown sugar
- 1 quart Apple cider
- 5 Bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp. mixed peppercorns
- 1 Pinch coriander
- Peel of 1 Tangerine
- 1 Tbsp. mashed garlic
- Fresh turkey (not frozen, not already brined or injected with anything – the label will tell the full story), about 14 lbs.
- Butter or Olive oil
- Optional: herbs of your choice (rosemary for example) for rubbing before cooking.
- Mix salt, sugar, bay leaves, peppercorns, and tangerine peel with 1L of water. Bring to boil and boil for about 1 min. Chill.
- Add apple cider, coriander, garlic, and 2L of water (can be a little less – to fill the brining container).
- Wash the turkey and carefully peel off skin without ripping it or removing completely. Release leg ties. This is an important step as the skin is very tough and stops the brining solution from reaching the meat. That’s why you need to peel it off the meat.
- Brine the turkey for 36 hours in the refrigerator stirring occasionally (see above regarding choosing the proper container to accommodate the size of the turkey).
- Remove the turkey from the brining solution. Discard the solution; don’t keep it until next year.
- Wash the turkey, coat with butter / olive oil and optional herbs, both the skin and the meat under the skin. Pull the skin back to cover the exposed meat as well as possible. Tie the legs.
- Cook until internal temperature reaches at least 165 oF. See discussion above regarding cooking methods. Some will require basting during cooking and some won’t.
- Optional: if your appliance allows it (an outdoor rotisserie for example), use apple or other wood chips according to the appliance’s manual for that smoky outdoor aroma. Don’t overdo it though. We are not making smoked turkey here.
- Let stand at least 15 minutes before carving.
Enjoy! Happy Thanksgiving!