On this weekend’s GardenLife radio show (November 19 and 20, 2011) we talked about a recipe for brined turkey using juniper berries. Here it is and hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving:

This recipe works best with a 12-14 pound turkey. Also crush whole spices with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

12-14-pound fresh hen turkey (Sharon likes Diestel turkey)
1 1/2 – 1 3/4 cup kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon juniper berries, crushed
1/2 tsp black peppercorns, crushed
2 tsp whole allspice, crushed
4 fresh thyme sprigs
5 fresh sage leaves
2 bay leaves, torn into smaller pieces
Optional: 1 whole head of garlic cloves, separated and peeled
About 2 1/2 gallons cold water
2 turkey-size oven or brining bags (Reynolds offers them)
2 tablespoons unsalted, softened butter

1. Add water, salt and sugar to a large pot and stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved; then add cloves, bay leaves, sage leaves, thyme, optional garlic, crushed allspice, juniper berries and peppercorns
2. Nest 1 oven bag inside the other to create a double bag (to avoid leakage) and place it, mouth open wide facing up, in a large roasting pan or wide bowl to stabilize the bags and catch any leaks.
3. Fold back the top 1/3 of the double bags to make a collar so that the bags will remain open. Remove the giblets and rinse the turkey well before placing it inside the bags and pour enough brine to completely cover the bird. Press out the excess air and seal both bags securely. Turn bags so that the turkey is breast side down in the roasting pan and refrigerate a minimum of 12 hours to a maximum of 24 hours (any more than 24 hours and the meat will become mushy). While in the brine, turn the turkey 3 to 4 times. You can also use a large stainless steel stockpot (do not use aluminum because the salt could pit it), but make sure the brine completely covers the turkey.
4. Remove turkey from the brine and discard the bags and the brine. Rinse the turkey thoroughly under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place turkey in a clean roasting pan and refrigerate unwrapped for at least 6 hours or overnight.
5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.; remove turkey about 30 minutes prior to roasting. Spread 2 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter over the skin and sprinkle pepper over skin and in the cavity. DO NOT add salt to the turkey after brining. Cook your favorite stuffing separately because if placed in the cavity, the salt can also over season the stuffing.
6. Tuck the wing tips under, loosely truss legs and set turkey on a rack in a roasting pan. Reduce heat to 325 degrees F. and place in the oven. Because the sugar in the brine promotes browning, tent the bird breast and/or legs loosely if it is getting too dark too quickly. Make sure you use a meat or instant-read thermometer to determine when it is properly cooked (140-145 degrees F.). Keep an eye on the timing because a brined turkey cooks about 30 minutes faster than a non-brined one! Remove and let it rest for 1 hour to allow the juices to return to the turkey.
7. Use the drippings to make gravy, but DO NOT add salt until you have tasted it first. Probably little or no salt will be needed and for the same reason, if using chicken broth, only use low-sodium or unsalted broth or just add water.
8. Make sure to clean the sink, kitchen spigots, handles and counters afterward with a solution of 1 tsp bleach to 1 quart of water (and your hands too) to prevent any cross-contamination of bacteria.