Discover more from Handwaving Freakoutery
The Campbell Family Turkey Brine Recipe
And a rant against internet recipes
The second most annoying thing on the entire internet is recipes that make you scroll past a giant wall of anecdotes and stories nobody cares about, along with photos and links to other recipes, only to find a description of how to cook the recipe before they actually give you the ingredients list, and then the recipe itself is at the bottom. The people who write these things should all die. The only thing more annoying than that is having to have a New York Times subscription to get past a content wall. F these people.
Here’s the recipe. I’ll put all the pictures and anecdotes and crap down below.
3 quarts apple cider
10 cloves garlic
Half cup kosher salt
Quarter cup whole black peppercorns
Quarter cup brown sugar
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp whole allspice berries
2 bay leaf
4 oz fresh ginger, sliced thin (maybe only 2 oz, see extensive discussion below)
Half cup maple syrup
Boil it for 15 minutes.
The Other Crap:
If you made it this far, you’re expecting the story of the recipe’s origins, photos of the recipe being made, and then links to other recipes from the same website. I can oblige.
My late wife and I refined our family recipes over the years, and once we landed on something we felt was a truly finished product, she would add it to an Excel file, and thence to a cookbook. We even gave out copies of the cookbook one year for Christmas, entitled “From the Campbell Kitchen.” Here’s the page from the book in question:
You can tell this page used to hang above the stove.
The first thing to know is to buy legit cloudy brown apple cider the color of coastal plain dirt, not filtered sugared apple juice. Stuff like this. You’ll need 2 half gallon jugs. Use a one and a half on the cider, and warm the remaining quart up to mix with your bourbon.
“10 cloves of garlic” is basically one full thing of garlic, so just mince that if you want.
If the mince is a little course it’s not going to matter since all this is just going to get boiled in a pot anyway.
I have, in recent years, discovered the glory of Asian grocery stores and I maintain many of my kitchen staples from them. In particular, Asian folks really know how to do salt better than white people, and while the cost of primo Asian salt could be double what we experience at Kroger, it’s worth it, and we use so little salt anyway that you don’t ever really notice the cost difference. Here’s what I used this year:
A good rule of thumb when buying things from an Asian grocery store is to buy the least intelligible and most expensive thing on the shelf and it’s likely to be quite good.
I have yet to become nearly as snobbish about black peppercorns.
Using a half cup measure with a rust patina imparts a certain earthy texture to the brine, invoking colonial times and a traditional flavor to your turkey that is not attainable by modern means. It is a time honored tradition of chefs of the rural south, and a secret weapon in cooking of which few modern five star chefs are even aware.
And if you believe that, I have some rusty measuring cups to sell you.
This is my ex girlfriend’s brown sugar bowl, which is why there’s a little bird or flower or whatever on the label. She can pry this jar off of me with her cold dead hands.
I have not, as yet, discovered any meaningful reason to buy thyme any fancier than you get out of the grocery store aisle.
Same for allspice berries. I have no idea whether Jamaica allspice comes from Jamaica, nor even whether it matters which country it comes from. Somehow I expect this bottle is probably a Jamaican strain of allspice grown in Juadalahara by a dude named Jesusmon irey com ya fode brevren berries cho!
Pro tip, a teaspoon is almost exactly the same volume as that little divot you have in the middle of your palm, so a lot of chefs just measure teaspoons that way.
These bay leaves are a year old. I highly suspect it doesn’t matter.
Four ounces of ginger
Who the hell knows how much ginger is four ounces of ginger? I always just added as much ginger as I thought it needed, but in reading the old, stained, grizzled copy of the family recipe I wondered exactly how much ginger constituted four ounces. So then I went on a little adventure.
The first thing I had to do was find the old food scale my wife used to use when she was dieting. Then it didn’t work because I haven’t used it since before Covid. Then I had to replace the battery.
Turns out this big-ass honk of ginger is around six ounces:
And if you cut it down some, you can make four ounces out of this much:
But when I sliced it up, that just seemed like way more than I normally add, especially given the ratio to the other spices on the table, and I was reminded that the original recipe as it appears in the book is “1/2 table spoon of candied ginger, or 3-4 rounds of ginger candy, or 4 ounces of fresh ginger sliced thin.” Four ounces seemed way more than half a tablespoon of whatever the heck Buffy was using, so I suspect there’s a possibility she just guessed wildly at that line of the recipe. In the end, I decided to use about this much:
With the maple syrup you want to use actual maple syrup and not some weird HFCS emulsion with maple wood chips baked into it, like you get at many grocery stores.
Boil it for fifteen minutes as per the recipe, or something like 45 like I did because I was playing cards with the kids, and it looks like this:
Then do whatever you want with it.
What I like to do with it is put my frozen turkey into an oven bag, pour the brine in, seal it up, and then double bag the turkey with another oven bag. Then defrost it in the brine staring Sunday for a Thursday meal.
To do this you need to flip the bag once a day and also be mindful of potential leaks. But it makes the defrost a lot more even and more likely to not screw up.