Thanksgiving is a distinctly American holiday. And bourbon is distinctly American booze.
With its balance of flavors – smoky, spicy and sweet – and hints of caramel and vanilla, it pairs with just about everything on a Thanksgiving dinner menu, particularly the turkey.
A brined bird with a bourbon-maple glaze is one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions.
The drippings combine with excess glaze at the bottom of the roasting pan which – when heated on the stovetop with a few tablespoons of flour – make a thick, rich, sweet gravy that’s tempered by the saltiness of soy sauce and flavor of the bird.
Brining the bird overnight helps ensure moist, juicy and tender meat. Lean meats, like poultry, easily dry out when cooked. And turkey can be particularly tricky.
Its white meat is leaner and, because it has less fat to render, requires more cooking time. As a result, it can become stringy and dry, while the dark meat, which contains more fat, stays moist. Brining works because the salt in the solution causes the bird’s muscle fibers to swell, allowing them to absorb fluid, both seasoning and moistening the meat.
It can also help the turkey cook faster. Since there’s more water in the meat, the bird is effectively steamed from the inside while it’s roasting on the outside.
Preparing a turkey, especially if it’s frozen, takes several days. Thawing a frozen turkey in the refrigerator takes three to four hours per pound, or about two-and-a-half days for my 14-pounder. And turkey should be thawed before it is brined.
This year, I followed brining instructions from the November 2013 issue of Food and Wine magazine, then made my own tried-and-true bourbon-maple glaze and simple but substantial gravy.
While the recipe from the magazine called for a brining bag, I used a 5-gallon plastic bucket. I left the turkey in the bucket and brining solution outdoors overnight after making sure overnight temperatures were hovering around 35 to 38 degrees.
I used Jim Beam on my bird.
Roasting the small turkey at 325 degrees took about 4 ½ hours. (Figure 15 to 20 minutes per pound.) For flavor and additional moisture, I basted the bird every 15 to 20 minutes, generously coating it with the bourbon-maple glaze and its own drippings.
It did begin to seem like a lot of basting, but I was happy with the results.
Be sure to use a meat thermometer to tell when the turkey’s done. Its internal temperature should reach 165 degrees.
Before carving, let the bird stand for 20 or 30 minutes to allow its juices to saturate the meat. While the bird is resting, it’s a good time to make gravy.
And, don’t worry about feeding a boozy bird to the kids. The alcohol cooks out of the glaze while the turkey’s roasting. The result is both salty and sweet, with slightly smoky and spicy undertones.
Here’s what I did for my turkey:
From chef Tanya Holland, November 2013 issue of Food and Wine magazine
2 cups apple cider
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 rosemary sprigs
1 bunch thyme
3 bunches sage
3 pounds ice cubes
Put the turkey in a brining bag set in a tub or very large pot. In a large saucepan, combine the cider with the salt, brown sugar, rosemary, thyme and sage and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add 6 quarts of cold water to the brine, then pour over the turkey. Add the ice to the brine and refrigerate the turkey overnight.
Adriana’s Bourbon-Maple Glaze and Gravy
1 cup bourbon
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Low-sodium chicken broth (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients except for flour in a large mixing bowl. Use a baster to coat the turkey with the glaze, repeating every 15 to 20 minutes until the turkey is completely cooked. When you run out of the mixture in the bowl, baste the turkey with a mixture of the glaze and drippings from the bottom of the roasting pan.
For gravy, after removing the turkey from the roasting pan, pour about 2 cups of glaze and drippings mixture into a skillet. Over low heat, simmer the mixture, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Whisk in flour, removing any lumps. Gravy will thicken. If desired, adjust consistency with low-sodium chicken broth. Some recipes also call for a cup of dry white wine, like sauvignon blanc, and 1/4 cup cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.