As I mentioned in our Thanksgiving Day post, over the past five Thanksgivings I’ve spent in London, I’ve developed my own tradition of hosting a large feast. My guests tend to be all non-Americans (save my long-time friend Marta who lives in London). I take my task of educating these non-Americans on the delights of the holiday – both culinary and otherwise – seriously. As a result, each year my ambitions have grown in terms of how many I’ll cook for; how many dishes I’ll make; how much time I’ll spend preparing.
This year, I decided to depart from the turkey recipe that I’ve used for the past three years. I thought it was time to try something new, even though that recipe (for the record: Michael Chiarello’s with Citrus Rosemary Salt) has served me well and is super tasty. Given the popularity of brining turkeys these days, I thought it was time for me to give that a try. Herewith, my adventures in turkey brining.
After some research, I decided to use Anne Burrell’s Herb-Crusted Turkey recipe…with Apple Cider gravy (yum!). First, though, I had to get a turkey. In a country where turkeys aren’t really big business until much closer to Christmas, this can prove more difficult than one might imagine. You can fairly easily find a frozen turkey, but my London-sized fridge isn’t great for defrosting a giant bird over four days – especially not when that fridge needs to be crammed with lots of other food. However, it’s equally hard to find a sufficiently large fresh turkey.
Fortunately, I live with Louise who sees something like Large Fresh Turkey Procurement as a great adventure. She took the reigns and ordered one through one of the suppliers at Smithfield Market.
For non-Londoners, Smithfield Market is a wholesale meat market in the City of London – a hive of meat-related activity on any given morning. The place doesn’t look that different today than in the picture above. There are still trucks going in and out every morning and the exterior is pretty much the same, though I like to think the interior is a little more modern.
Anyways, Louise had already bought an enormous leg of lamb at Smithfield for Easter this year, so getting our turkey there was a no-brainer for her. On (real) Thanksgiving morning, we hopped on a couple of Boris bikes at 6:15 and headed to the market to pick up our 9-10 kilo bird. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures on this adventure, but it was amazing to realize that all the vendors were basically at the end of their workday as we arrived at 6:40. They were lounging around listening to Michael Jackson and checking the books as two goofy girls arrived asking about their pre-ordered turkey.
We got the turkey back to the flat on the bus. The thought of cycling with a 20lb turkey kind of terrified me. The night before, I had gotten all the brining ingredients ready – chopped the onions, celery, carrots, garlic, etc. – so the turkey went straight into the box; we filled ‘er up with water and apple cider, dumped in the salt, herbs and veggies and gave it a stir.
Now, a note on our brining “box”. As I mentioned before, the fridge is not sufficiently large to comfortably fit a turkey this size – especially if it needs to be soaking in brine! So we had to improvise on ways to keep the turkey sufficiently cold outside of a refrigerator. Fortunately, Louise has an engineering degree, which I am sure she expected to use for important projects like Keep a Turkey Cold in a Third Floor Flat Outside of a Refrigerator for Two Days. She fashioned a makeshift cooler out of our recycling box (don’t worry, we washed it) and insulation and ice packs from our last two Abel & Cole deliveries (more on those in a later post).
The helpful label was for our cleaner; we didn’t actually forget that there was a turkey in there.
We changed out the ice packs about every 12 hours to keep the water cold. It worked a treat. The turkey definitely stayed cold enough and the refrigerator was kept sufficiently clear for me to stock it with all the other food in various stages of preparation.
Late on the Friday night (after a full day of cooking/prep and a brief two hour break at some friends’ birthday drinks), the turkey came out of the brine. We patted it dry, plonked it on the roasting tray on a bed of veg, and then came the fun part of massaging it with butter, herbs and salt.
Roasting took about 3.5 hours. She turned a beautiful bronze color and came out at the perfect temperature. Ta-da!
It was tasty, but I don’t think I liked it more than my tried-and-trusted Citrus Rosemary Salt Rub version. It was definitely moist, but I am not sure all the effort resulted in the best turkey I’ve ever had. And more importantly, the skin was not as crispy and delicious as with other turkeys. As my mother’s daughter, I believe tasty turkey skin is perhaps the most important part of Thanksgiving. Still, it was an adventure and certainly resulted in a satisfactory turkey.
There’s so much more I could say about my Thanksgiving. Like the fact that I made WAY too much food – enough to comfortably feed all 13 guests, plus 7 more the next day (and there were still leftovers); or the fact that I took a day and half off work to prepare; or that my pies were the weakest link of the meal and I pride myself on my pies (whoops!); or the recipe for the tasty rosemary-infused cocktail we had with our appetizers.
But I’ll cut it short and just say: a good time was had by all.
Click the pic above to see just how much of a good time was had!
And of course, I could NOT have done it without Louise’s invaluable help – most importantly with every stage of the turkey process, but really with everything (including nearly all the pics in this post)!
Have you ever brined a turkey? What’s your favorite go-to method for the perfect holiday bird?