Cooks can choose from several ways to prepare holiday turkey

Richard Bogren, Reames, Elizabeth S.  |  1/4/2011 1:10:44 AM

News Release Distributed 11/19/10

When it comes to preparing a holiday turkey, cooks can choose from a variety of methods, including marinating, brining and basting.

These methods involve the use of a liquid to change or improve the flavor, taste, tenderness or texture of poultry, says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames. They can be done at home, or birds may be purchased already marinated, basted or brined.

Marinating means to steep food in a marinade – a savory, acidic sauce in which a food is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it. The acid in marinades causes the tissue to break down and has a tenderizing effect.

“The breaking down of the tissue also causes the poultry to hold more liquid, making it juicier,” Reames says. “Too much vinegar or hot sauce in a marinade, however, can have the opposite effect and cause the meat to be stringy and tough.”

Poultry may be marinated by completely immersing it in the marinade. To help infuse the marinade, you may use a fork to make holes in the meat or use a needle-like injector.

Poultry can be refrigerated for up to two days in a marinade. For easy cleanup, use a food-grade plastic bag and discard it after use. Or you can use food-grade plastic, stainless steel or glass containers. In any event, cover poultry while marinating in the refrigerator.

For safety’s sake, Reames says, don’t use marinade from raw poultry as a sauce unless it is boiled first to destroy bacteria.

Brining means to treat with or steep in brine – a strong solution of water and salt. A sweetener such as sugar, molasses, honey or corn syrup may be added to the solution for flavor and to improve browning during cooking.

Salt in the brine dissolves protein in the meat, and the salt and protein reduce moisture loss during cooking, Reames says. This makes meat juicier and more tender.

To prepare a brine solution for poultry, add 3/4 cup of salt to one gallon of water or three tablespoons of salt per quart of water. Add sweetener, such as sugar or molasses, if you wish.

Place the brining solution in a food-grade plastic, stainless steel or glass container and totally submerge the turkey. Store it covered in the refrigerator.

“For best results, refrigerate at least overnight,” Reames says. “Poultry may be left in the refrigerator up to two days after it’s thawed or purchased fresh.”

If you’re stuffing a marinated or brined turkey, marinate or brine the bird first and then cook it immediately after stuffing.

A third way to cook a turkey is by basting it in the oven. “Basting adds flavor and color and prevents poultry from drying out,” Reames says.

Basting means to moisten meat or other food while it’s cooking, generally with melted butter or other fat, meat drippings or liquid such as a stock. The basting liquid can be spooned or brushed on the turkey or drizzled with a bulb baster.

If you’re basting a bird, remember that each time the oven door is opened, the oven temperature is lowered and additional cooking time may be needed. And always use clean utensils to avoid cross-contamination, Reames says.

However you prepare it, be sure to cook your turkey safely. Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees, and cook whole birds or parts to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a meat thermometer.

Stores may sell raw poultry products that already have been marinated, basted or brined, Reames says. These products have been injected or marinated with a solution containing butter or other edible fat, broth, stock, or water, plus spices, flavor enhancers, colorings, or other approved substances.

“If you see terms such as basted, self basted, marinated or for flavoring on a raw-poultry label, a solution has been added during processing – up to 3 percent by weight for bone-in poultry and up to 8 percent by weight for boneless poultry,” Reames says.

Rick Bogren

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