Feb 11, 2010

Brined Balsamic Turkey with Apples and Sweet Potatoes - A Dish that Deserves the Long Title

I’m not a huge fan of turkey, especially the breast, which I find dry and flavorless in comparison to dark meat.  I’ve never even bothered to cook one; I stick with chicken.  I recently came up with a few reasons for attempting to prepare a whole, bone-in turkey breast: it’s low fat, it’s economical, my husband likes it.  Mostly, I just wanted to see if I could do it well.  My superiority complex could use another building block.    

The primary goal was to prepare a juicy breast, so I decided to try something else I’d never done before:  brining the bird.  I looked up a kajillion recipes on line, and put together an ‘average’ brine in terms of the amount of salt and sugar in it.  Sugar isn’t technically required in a brine - but I read that sugar enhances flavor and promotes browning.  Does browning need promotion?  I never experienced a lack of it when roasting a chicken, but what the heck.  I’d stay with the herd and include sugar in my brine. 

To see the full instructional photo album, go to:  frankie's balsamic turkey on facebook

Here’s what I put in the brine:
1 gallon water
½ cup table salt (I was low on Kosher, but use ¾ cup if you have it)
¾ cup brown sugar
1 lemon, quartered
a few sprigs of thyme
a sprig of rosemary

To make the brine, I heated one quart of water in a pan just enough to dissolve the salt and sugar.  I removed the pan from the heat, and added the lemon, herbs, and three more quarts of cold water.  I submerged a 4 pound turkey breast and brined it in the fridge for a little over 5 hours.  

While the bird brined, I googled roasting recipes.  I wanted to try something new.  I came across a Giada’s recipe for balsamic chicken and couldn’t get it out of my mind (gotta try that soon).  I stayed with the balsamic theme and found a recipe for roast chicken with balsamic and apples.  Turkey breast and baked apples…yes!  That sounded like a marriage made in heaven, and I loved the idea of including balsamic - though I was skeptical it would work without a ton of sugar.  Maybe the apples would provide enough?  I hoped so.  I decided to add whole cloves of garlic and sweet potatoes to the roasting medley as well. 

With my mind set on a recipe, I ventured outdoors to shovel last night’s snowfall off the walkway.  One thing led to another, and by the time my husband and I returned from a comical attempt to hike the ridge behind our house, the turkey had brined for over 5 hours and I was getting excited for dinner.   

I made some herbed olive oil to rub on the turkey:
2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil
Minced rosemary, sage, thyme, and black pepper 

Normally I would add salt to this, but I didn’t know how salty the brine would make the turkey, so I played it safe.  It was the right move. 

Next I prepared some garlic, apples, and sweet potatoes to roast with the breast: 
Core, peel, and quarter a few apples (I used Gala)
Peel a few cloves of garlic.
Peel and cut sweet potatoes into large chunks.

I tossed the apples, sweet potatoes and whole cloves of garlic in some olive oil and a little salt.

I Put it all together in a cast iron skillet:

Arrange garlic, apples and potatoes in a single layer.

Rinse brine off turkey and pat dry.

Rub herbed olive oil on turkey.

Place turkey on top of apples and potatoes in roasting pan.

Drizzle the whole mess with ¼ cup balsamic vinegar.

I roasted the 4 pound turkey breast at 350 degrees for one hour and twenty minutes.   

The result was glorious!  The turkey came out of the oven looking beautiful and it tasted wonderful.  The meat was tender and juicy and full of herbaceous flavor with just the right level of saltiness.  The sweet and tart apples were the perfect counterpoint to the meat…and the balsamic?  It totally worked.  I don’t really know how.  The house reeked of vinegar for the first hour the turkey was baking and I was pretty worried (was the acid reacting with the cast iron pan and ruining the whole meal?)  But the acidic smell eventually gave way to delectable aromas of herbs, baking apples, and roasting turkey.  Exactly what one wants for dinner on a snowy day at a cabin in upstate New York. 

*A note for anyone who wants to try this recipe:  the apples became super soft during roasting.  I would try leaving the peel on the apples next time.  Or perhaps a firmer apple, such as granny smith, would hold up better.  Let me know!

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