Sunday, November 25, 2012

Does Marinating a Turkey Make a Difference?: My Rum and Dr. Pepper Experiment

Jack's Instructions

My friend Jack's very specific instructions for marinating my 20-pound turkey were as follows:

Mix a fifth of Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum with a 2-liter bottle of Dr. Pepper and marinate your turkey in it for 12 hours.

Upon further questioning, I was able to extract this additional advice:

Make sure to baste your turkey or it will get too dry as the alcohol burns off.

How I Actually Did It

So I set out to clarify how to marinate a turkey by consulting my other friend, Google, who elaborated enough through a few different sources to help me piece together the marinating process for such a huge piece of poultry.

Here are the basic steps I followed (Google is there for you, too, if you need more information)  Mine turned out well, but I am by no means a detailed recipe writer yet. These instructions would probably be enough for an experienced cook, but may not suffice for a novice! Anyway, it's more than Jack gave me, right?:

1. I mixed together 2 liters of Dr. Pepper and 750 mililiters of Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum ) less the little bit that accidentally spilled into the glass of ice I had sitting on the counter...) in my large, covered, stainless steel roasting pan. It smelled great already. Tasted good, too.

2. I removed the giblets and neck from the cavities of the turkey (this is important whether you're marinating or not!).

3. I rinsed the turkey, but didn't bother to dry it off, since I was planning to plunge it into a liquid. (I read that you could also marinate the turkey in a cooking bag- similar to the way you marinate chicken breasts in a baggie. One person who did it that way placed it in her crisper drawer to marinate.)

4. I placed the turkey, breast side down, into the marinade, covered the pan, and put it in the fridge for about 12 hours.

5. Then, I turned the turkey over and let it marinate on that side for about 8 hours. Since I had read that marinating time should be 12-36 hours, and I figured the breast was the most important area, I marinated for the last 4 hours on the breast side again. NOTE: Each time I flipped it, I marinated the top side of the turkey, using my new turkey baster- just to try it out!

6. I seasoned the turkey inside and out with salt and pepper, then placed it in a cooking bag like I always do. I poured the marinade into a pitcher and ashed and dried the roasting pan before placing the turkey (in the bag) in it. When I use a bag, I do not place the cover on the pan. In this case, the turkey was too large for the lid anyway! (I have since read that one should rinse the turkey again after marinating, but before cooking. Not sure why...)

7. I set the oven to 325 degrees on convection roast, and the timer for 4.5 hours.

8. Per Jack's instructions, I opened the bag after an hour to baste the turkey with its own juices that were collecting in the bottom of the bag. By then, it was already getting quite brown in some areas, so I placed aluminum foil over a few spots and reclosed the bag. I checked and basted at the second, third and fourth hour marks, too.

9. Once the temperature was right according to the instant-read thermometer, I let it rest out on the counter for 20 minutes before carving (or mutilating, in my case!).

Here's how it turned out. 

The missing pieces were the results of my "taste testing" prior to carving.

I think the meat was moister and a bit sweeter with the marinade than with regular roasting. And you can see it browned a little more than usual. Next time, I would cover it sooner. The one thing I'm not sure about is whether it was actually the marinating or the basting that made the difference! I didn't realize that I was actually changing two variables in this little experiment.

Making a Glaze From Marinade

I wasn't sure it was worth the extra twenty dollars or so for this preparation, until I tasted the glaze I made with the leftover marinade. So deliciously sweet and sticky to drizzle over the turkey like gravy! Today at lunch, I spread some of it cold on my leftover turkey sandwich. It was about the consistency of honey, and every bit as sweet!

I had always heard that liquids used to marinate poultry or meat had to be discarded, but I  really wanted to make a glaze after my husband commented that it would be great if the rum and soda were a sticky glaze! So my friend Google came to my aid once again, convincing me that it is safe to use the marinade, either as a sauce or for "mopping" on the grill if it is boiled first for several minutes. (Please*do*not*take*my*word*on*this, since I am not an expert (quite to the contrary- I'm the Home Ec Dropout... *Do*your*own*research!)

Anyway, I poured the marinade in a 3- quart saucepan (the amount left was about 2 liters), boiled it for about 10 minutes, strained it to remove little bits of icky turkey stuff that had formed, and transferred to a 2-quart saucepan. Then I added a cup of brown sugar and reduced the mixture to between 1 and 2 cups (I didn't measure it) by simmering over low heat. I forgot to time it, but I believe it took at least an hour. It was so delicious, it makes me want to try more reductions- maybe red wine is next!

My daughter said the turkey may not have been that much better, but the sauce was definitely worth twenty dollars! I agree.

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