Brine a Turkey with Sage

Monday, November 13, 2006

My husband recently made a Practice Turkey for Thanksgiving. Yes, you read that correctly: A Practice Turkey.

We are still kind of green when it comes to hosting Thanksgiving dinner, so we need to test things out before the big day. And... well, I think we just had a hankering for an early taste of all those wonderful Thanksgiving flavors: roast turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, etc.

Sage is a key ingredient used in many stuffings for Thanksgiving turkey. In fact, I can't imagine a Thanksgiving meal without sage included somewhere.

In this case, we used some of the sage from our garden that I dried this summer. It was a key ingredient in the brine. (Yes, Michael wanted to try brining a turkey, which seems to be all the rage right now when it comes to turkey cooking.)

Using a recipe from this month's Saveur magazine, he started out by toasting about 2 tablespoons of the chopped dried sage. This made our apartment smell absolutely wonderful. (I was hungry already!)

He put the sage into a pot of water with two parts kosher salt and one part sugar. He brought that to a boil and then let it cool. He put the brine into a big tub, added a 6 lb. turkey breast, and let it sit in the refrigerator for about 12 hours.

The next day... he took the turkey out of the brine, tucked some pieces of butter underneath the skin, and roasted it. No basting required! The whole idea about brining a turkey is that the salt alters the protein in the meat and seals in the moisture.

So now you're probably wondering...

Was it worth the effort? Was the turkey really moist?

Yes! This was the moistest turkey we've ever had. No dry meat here. The turkey didn't fall to pieces like the one at the Griswold Family's Christmas. It was juicy and delicious.

Did it taste salty?

Yes. Think of the way a brined ham tastes. It's similarly salty, but not inedibly so. (But if you're on a low-sodium diet, this is not the turkey for you.)

Where's the gravy?

The thing about the brine is that it seals in all the juices, so there were hardly any drippings in the pan. We'll have to figure out another way to make gravy.

Did it taste like sage?

Well, no, not so much. The meat really didn't taste like sage at all. Only the skin held the flavor of the sage. I think the best part about using sage in this was... the aroma. It smelled like Thanksgiving.

Anything else I should know about a brined turkey?

Yes. The meat was somewhat pinkish. Think pink, the way a brined ham is pink (although not that pink. Just slightly pink.). It took me a while to be OK with that, because we have it so ingrained in our heads that poultry needs to be well cooked. We used a meat thermometer and made sure the meat was heated above 165 degrees. Even fully cooked, there will be pinkness in a brined turkey. It's normal. (And you might want to explain this to your guests.)

So there you have it, brined turkey with sage. So moist and flavorful... you won't want plain ol' dry turkey ever again!

About brining a turkey
Video: The science of brining a turkey
Find a sustainably-raised turkey
Turkey brine recipe
Another turkey brine recipe
And... one more turkey brine recipe
Apple-orange cranberry sauce recipe

This is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging, which will be hosted by Nandita at Saffron Trail. Are you blogging about herbs, vegetables, plants or flowers? Join WHB!


Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is a great write-up -- I've been a little nervous about brining, but this sounds quite easy, actually, and so tasty! I would love to try it this year.

I remember when you dried/saved your sage, too -- glad to see it coming back out to get put to good, Thanksgiving-y use!

The Inadvertent Gardener

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just Saturday I suggested making Thanksgiving dinner for Sunday, but was voted down by hubbie - too close to the "real" day. I've brined turkeys for a few years now, and have found that it definitely ups the flavor quotient.

This article from Fine Cooking magazine talks about the science of brining:

Click on "brining guidelines" to get the right proportions. This is important so that the meat doesn't get too salty. One year I used Diamond instead of Morton's kosher salt, and the turkey was altogether too salty. (Diamond kosher salt has much smaller crystals than Morton's, so you definitely don't need as much.)

I'm getting excited for the big meal already!

2:57 PM  
Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

Great post for WHB, and I *love* the idea of practice turkey. I also love sage. I wish I had dried some of my own sage. Next year for sure. Or if we get a really warm day, maybe I'll venture out to the garden and cut some; I'm pretty sure it's still good. First though, it has to stop raining!

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a delicious way to serve your turkey Christa. Do your turkey's come pre-basted from the processor or are they your own birds?

12:13 AM  
Blogger Colleen Vanderlinden said...

I've considered brining for the past few Thanksgivings...I might have to actually do it this year :-)

BTW, thanks for mentioning the whole pink issue. I'm one of those people who can't stand even a tinge of pink in my meat, so this'll have to be something I get over. Just thinking about that "Thanksgiving smell" is making me hungry!

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're not alone when it comes to Turkey Practice. I deep fry a turkey every October to try out new dry rub and injector sauce recipes. If you want a juicy turkey, you should try deep frying.


8:47 AM  
Blogger Christa said...

Tracy: Thanks for the article from Fine Cooking. And you make a very good point about the salt. I used to think all salts were created equal; but it's not so! There's a big difference!

Stuart: We used a regular (non-pre-basted) store-bought turkey. I recommend free-range turkeys if you can find them; they tend to have a better flavor than the ones produced at factory farms.

Anthony: I've heard that deep-fried turkeys are great. I would love to try one sometime.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We just need to remember that after we pull the turkey out of the brining solution, that we have to thoroughly rinse the turkey (inside and out) and then pat it dry with paper towels before cooking. If we dont, then the turkey will be too salty.
Adding in an quartered orange, some whole cloves, and a couple of cinnamon sticks along with the sage gives the turkey a wonderful flavor and the house smells fantastic when its cooking.

12:02 AM  
Blogger Josie said...

Great post. I brined the turkey last year with sage and also remarked that there was really no sage taste in the meat. This year I am planning on stuffing the cavity with sage leaves and probably put a sage butter mixture under the skin.


1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can some one talk more about the salt in the turkey? If I have people on a low salt diet should I not brine the turkey?


3:40 PM  
Blogger Onions Amoung Us said...

Thank you for this very informative post.

3:31 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]