To Brine Or Not To Brine

After reading all the comments on my Thanksgiving post and Meg’s round-up of all the food magazine turkey advice it’s amazing to me how divisive the issue of brining is. There are passionate brine advocates, the Anti-Brining Association of America and those who’d rather you salted your bird. After careful research I told my mom to buy brining bags from Williams Sonoma and I plan to make this Honey-Brined Turkey from Epicurious. Why? Because it sounds yummy and I think I can do it. As for the rest of my menu, I have created an elaborate array of dishes that I think I can pull off by pre-cooking most of it on Wednesday (I’m flying in on Tuesday.) Here’s the plan and feel free to help me tweak it based on your recommendations (as you’ll see I’m relying heavily on last month’s Gourmet Magazine.)

The Amateur Gourmet’s

THANKSGIVING MENU

Fall 2006

[+ means I’ll make it ahead; – means I’ll make it the day of; +/- means work is required both days.]

Cocktails & Union Square Café Bar Nuts +

(Union Square Café Cookbook)

Popovers –

(Barefoot Contessa Parties)

Carrot Soup with Toasted Almonds +

(Gourmet Magazine pg. 212)

Roasted Pear Salad with Endive, Hazelnuts and St. Agur –

(Sunday Suppers at Lucques, pg. 228)

Honey-Brined Turkey with Garlic and Thyme +/-

(Epicurious.com)

Cider Gravy –

(Martha Stewart’s Website)

Tart Cranberry-Onion Relish +

(Gourmet Magazine, pg. 14)

Sausage Fennel Stuffing +

(The Gourmet Cookbook, pg. 380)

Baby Brussels Sprouts with Buttered Pecans +/-

(Gourmet Magazine)

Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows +/-

(Nigella’s Feast, pg. 29)

Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake Pie +

(Gourmet Magazine, pg. 112)

Chocolate S’More Pie +

(Gourmet Magazine, pg. 122)

19 comments

  1. On the heavy side for me, but you know the animals you are feeding.

    Most people only eat pumpkin pie once a year, and therefore I think it’s a good idea to make it that once.

    My cranberry passion is reserved for Cranberry Jezebel.

    Did you notice you have nuts on the menu three times? I know you are a little nutty…

  2. Just looking at that menu makes me want to stay home from work today and tomorrow and plan Thanksgiving!

    Might I suggest braising the brussel sprouts? You can make them the day before and heat them up on Thanskgiving (they taste better the second day). Molly Stevens has an AMAZING creamy braised brussel sprout recipe that transforms the little guys into soft, creamy, velvety morsels. You can still top them with the buttered pecans, or she suggests hazelnuts.

    I put the recipe on my site: http://www.fancytoast.blogspot.com/2006/10/inconsolable-brussel-sprout_08.html

    Sorry, I couldn’t get the link to work.

  3. Well, not to throw a wrench into the works, but this briner has stumbled accross some disturbing news – Harold McGee is NOT a fan. http://www.cheftalk.com/forums/archive/index.php?t-15744.html

    This concerns me – he is a God-like being in the world of cooking. My guess is brining works great on the cheap birds I buy, tasteless compared to a real turkey. Since you’re buying a good turkey that might have a lot of it’s own flavor, you may want to skip the brining.

    Mike

  4. I was told by many a cook that brining a cheap turkey isnt necessary as they are usually injected with some type of solution.Brining a fresh turkey is suggested…

  5. I’ve made Martha’s cider gravy twice, once for a work event and another for a friends & family Thanksgiving dinner. A few notes… I ended up using my own turkey stock or chicken stock. The giblet broth was really too gamey for my taste. Also, I recommend skimming off some of the fat from the dripping, especially if you baste your bird. And finally, if you are using a brined turkey, don’t add salt.

    Good with hard or regular cider but add a splash of balsamic to finish if you make it w/o alcohol.

  6. I hope you’re not planning on talking or doing dishes after you eat ’cause with that menu you’ll be out cold. It’s a nice idea to plan in some taste bud break time by serving light dishes.

  7. Hey Adam – I think this looks like a stunning menu. I would eat everything on it!!

    My best advice as a Thanksgiving veteran (since we bought a house three years ago, we’ve gotten almost every holiday) is to always plan more time than you think you need. If everything works out perfectly – great then you have time to relax and mingle. If not, you’re ready. Also, expect something to go wrong – it always does. But that’s part of the fun and gives everyone something to talk about.

    Have a great time!

  8. Oh – I didn’t look how simple the brussels recipe you’re using, but if you’r elooking for something simple and delicious, here’s one I used that really came out well. I’d think you could also add other flavroing agents to the cream if desired.

    This serves four, so adjust to your needs – although I wouldn’t go too crazy on the cream (which can also be reduced a bit for a lovely sauce or could be the basis of a wonderful cheese sauce).

    Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream

    When buying Brussels sprouts, choose those with small, tight heads, no more than 1 1/2 inches in diameter, for the best flavor. Larger sprouts can often be trimmed of loose leaves along the stem and still be quite good; they cook best when cut in half.

    Serves 4

    1 pound Brussels sprouts , small, firm, bright green, rinsed with stem ends and discolored leaves removed

    1 cup heavy cream

    1/2 teaspoon table salt

    Pinch fresh ground nutmeg

    Ground black pepper

    Bring sprouts, cream, and salt to boil in 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Lower heat, cover, and simmer (shaking pan once or twice to redistribute sprouts) until knife tip inserted into a brussels sprout center meets no resistance, 10 to 12 minutes. Season with nutmeg and pepper and serve.

  9. I’d probably skip the Roasted Pear salad and do a simple green salad instead. People need a tastebud break, especially with the soup to start. I also might suggest skipping the soup (or serving it in really, really small portions.) I served soup to start at a Thanksgiving dinner once and people really liked it, ate a lot, and then weren’t as hungry for the rest. But everything looks really delicious–you just might want to rethink how complex each dish is and how heavy the food is as a whole.

    I cannot wait to see photos!

  10. I’d probably skip the Roasted Pear salad and do a simple green salad instead. People need a tastebud break, especially with the soup to start. I also might suggest skipping the soup (or serving it in really, really small portions.) I served soup to start at a Thanksgiving dinner once and people really liked it, ate a lot, and then weren’t as hungry for the rest. But everything looks really delicious–you just might want to rethink how complex each dish is and how heavy the food is as a whole.

    I cannot wait to see photos!

  11. To brine or not to brine…..

    Here’s my two cents– Unless you have an absolutely perfect bird, brine it. We tried brining several years ago and will never make an unbrined bird. Not only is it an amazing way to infuse herb/spice/citrus flavors into the meat, but it’s the most juicey turkey ever! I say try it before you naysay.

    Don’t worry about huge containers for brining. I make a “concentrated brine” (simmering salt, sugar,herbs, garlic, etc. in about 4-cups of liquid to dissolve and meld flavors). When cooled, I add the balance of the liquid.

    It takes less time to cool that way. Then I place the bird in an extra large Ziploc bag. They are huge–about 2.5 ft. x 3.5 ft. I place the bagged bird in a large bowl or stock pot and pour the brine over it. Squeeze the excess air out and close the bag, so the brine surrounds it. Place it the the refrigerator or well iced cooler for the designated time. Usually 8-12 hours. A really good beginners guide is found at http://www.virtualweberbullet.com/brining.html

    Hope you try it. It will be the best turkey you ever had!

  12. I had a similar reaction to Judith–wow, that’s a lot of nuts! All sounds great, though. Enjoy and have a great time in FL!

  13. Definitely brine, but I suggest just using salt and a bit of sugar in the brine the first time. Flavors can get quite intense otherwise. Try the minimum time, as well, so you don’t get an overly salty bird.

    I always brine my turkey, but I’ve done a lot of tinkering over the years in order to arrive at a result that I like.

  14. It looks nice – lots of color, I noticed.

    This morning (Saturday) both Giada and Barefoot Contessa featured turkey roasting menus on their shows on Food Network. I was impressed with Ina’s fresh herb butter with lemon zest (although I’m thinking orange instead) that she pushed underneath the skin of the turkey breast and then rubbed all over. I decided I’m doing that this year. We’ll see how it goes. Good luck with your menu. Hope you have some help.

  15. I think that there’s no reason to be dogmatic about how your prepare your bird–should be based on what you like to eat and how well you think you can execute the technique. Also, it’d be great to compare brining vs. non-brining. Either way, if you make sure you don’t overcook your bird the turkey will be just fine. Last year I melded Martha Stewart, Alton Brown, and Nigella Lawson’s brining recipes. This year I might just try the In a Garten method =).

  16. Hi Adam, I just read your post on brining. At the request of a friend, I also posted on to brine or not to brine, same title too, interesting. Anyway, I’m a brine fan, I didn’t host this year, but the previous two I brined, and then didn’t brine (at the request of a very picky eater in my family.) The brined turkey came out WAY tastier, and WAY juicier. I hope your turkey endeavor was a success! Here’s a link to my brine post: http://onefoodguy.blogspot.com/2006/11/to-brine-or-not-to-brine.html

  17. My best advice as a Thanksgiving veteran since we bought a house three years ago, we’ve gotten almost every holiday is to always plan more time than you think you need. If everything works out perfectly – great then you have time to relax and mingle. If not, you’re ready. Also, expect something to go wrong – it always does. But that’s part of the fun and gives everyone something to talk about.

  18. I’ve made Martha’s cider gravy twice, once for a work event and another for a friends & family Thanksgiving dinner. A few notes. I ended up using my own turkey stock or chicken stock. The giblet broth was really too gamey for my taste.

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