There’s an inherent paradox when cooking with bourbon. On one hand, adding bourbon to anything is an excellent idea. On the other hand, wasting bourbon by adding it to just about anything is an awful idea. That’s what makes this turkey brine recipe a little suspect.
But that’s also why they make different qualities and brands of bourbon. Don’t pour small-batch bourbon into a mixing bowl when making pecan pie, for instance. (I did that once. My Kentucky-born husband was displeased.)
Understand that it doesn’t have to be “either/or,” and you’ll feel OK about pouring large quantities of good whiskey into a big tub of salt for what’s bound to be the best wild bird you’ve eaten all year.
Turkey brine recipe with bourbon and beer
This recipe was inspired by Dixie Crystals, the pure-cane sugar company, but I’ve made a few tweaks so it works for both a traditional Thanksgiving meal in November, but is equally provocative and seasonal in the springtime when people are hunting these wild birds. The brine makes the turkey tender, while the beer and bourbon double-down on flavor.
- 2 gallons water
- 1 cup bourbon
- 2 cups Kosher salt or Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt (if you can get your hands on it).
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 5 sprigs rosemary
- 1 bottle light beer or amber ale (I like to find a random craft beer for this, and I explain why below)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and gently crushed with the side of a cleaver
- 1 lemon, sliced
Using a pot large enough to hold your wild turkey (which is probably ginormous since everyone knows you’re an expert hunter), combine all ingredients. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugars. Add the wild turkey, and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Cook as desired.
Dinner-party musings: how to tell a heroic story about the food you just slayed
You’ve got the hunting story — how you acquired the bird you’re eating — but maybe the story is lacking. Maybe the wild turkey, now being served, was in the roost tree, you were just below, right in his path because you did your homework, and the old Tom flew down at sunrise and walked right in front of your setup. Then, you shot him and carried him to the truck. Big whoop.
If your hunting story lacks sizzle, it’s OK. Because you have this other story that you’re going to spin. This story is like the wild turkey’s epilogue. And there’s just a few, small tips to make it hot.
Tip: Sit on the story until all dinner guests are several drinks into their visit.
You hunted the main course, but what else can you serve that shows that same resourcefulness? In the southeast, herbs green up in the spring and thrive, sometimes through winter, but certainly until Thanksgiving. In the case of this turkey brine, I added rosemary instead of the parsley the original recipe called for. Even though my herb garden hasn’t been weeded and it resembles the unpaved storefront of a neglected, shut-down gas station, the rosemary presses onward in spite of the competition.
Dig a little deeper and find a detail in what you’re pairing and why
When selecting the beer the recipe calls for, you could go with Miller Lite or something similar and, that’s fine. I love Miller Lite. But, hell, you’ve already thrown a cup of bourbon into a brine bowl, so why not throw a little extra cash at a craft brew? For this wild turkey brine, I found a beer named Provider Ale from Steel Toe Brewing company. I liked the name, and the label was cool. It’s thematic. The bird was hunted. The herbs were grown in the backyard.
This meal is about dudes who do. And often, when dudes are getting junk done in manly, dude fashion, they’re doing it in a pair of steel-toe boots. Plus, there’s something more tangible about this craft beer that’s useful — it has hints of lemon peel, which complement the lemon wedges in the brine.
Stretch your story and make the food-prep journey heroic and clever. Great stories are meant to be embellished. You aren’t being judged, and no one thinks you’re some big-shot culinary czar on the Food Network. So liberate yourself and remember people come to your place for free grub, drink and conversation. The rest is gravy.
Featured image: thedrinkshop.com