You may remember last Thanksgiving we ran a story by Russ Parsons of the Los Angeles Times about the Judy Bird — or the dry-brining technique that Judy Rodgers of The Zuni Cafe in San Fransisco.
Zuni Cafe is known for its amazing roast chicken, and the technique that Rodgers uses (salting the birds a few days before roasting them) can be easily applied to turkey.
Basically instead of big bag of water (which can get messy), you brine your turkey with salt alone. You use 3/4 of a teaspoon per pound, and you start 2 to 3 days before you cook it. Slip some herbs under the skin if you like (I would), and then roast as usual.
In its most basic form, dry-brining is nothing more than salting turkey and letting it sit for several days. I based it on the Zuni Café chicken my friend Judy Rodgers has made famous at her San Francisco restaurant.
Dry-brined turkey is, if anything, even more remarkable. While turkey sometimes can be dry and bland, after dry-brining, the meat is moist and flavorful. And in an improvement over wet-brining (which I enthusiastically practiced for several years), the texture of the meat stays firm and muscular, with none of the sponginess that can result from added moisture.
He has more all about the technique in his article from this year. Click here to see his improvements and updates.
One major improvement he noticed: you can start with a frozen turkey:
My first major discovery came after several e-mails asking whether it could be done with frozen turkeys too, rather than adding three days of defrosting time onto the three days of dry-brining. It seemed like a good idea, so we tried it in the test kitchen and it worked perfectly.
So no longer do you have to buy your turkey a week in advance. Just rinse the frozen turkey in cool water (to start the defrosting process), pat it dry and salt it. Then proceed just as you would with a fresh turkey. By the time it’s defrosted, it’ll be seasoned and ready to go.
He also found that flavored salts work well. He tried sage and bay leaf; rosemary-lemon; and smoked paprika and orange.
I’m telling you: This is the way to go with turkey. We did it last year and it was the most flavorful bird ever. I’ve done it with chicken ever since, and I adore it.
PS: Here’s a bonus. Click on this story and you’ll see links to all kinds of Thanksgiving recipes.