Did she save your Christmas?

Disclaimer: It is not yet February. As such, musings on Christmas are still permitted.

Second disclaimer: It is now February, but I refuse to waste a blog due to my inability to upload it, so shall move on as if it isn’t. I am not so prolific with my writing that I can afford to waste a perfectly good blog.

There’s one woman who makes sure that Christmas runs smoothly. Is it the woman who feeds the reindeer all their hay? Is it the woman who wraps the gifts and packs the sleigh? Is it the woman who’s helping Santa every day? Well, no. And neither is it your mother, wife or significant female other. All evidence seems to suggest it is in fact, Nigella. Such is the ubiquitous nature of her Christmas cookbook that one could be forgiven for thinking we all just ate spam right out of the tin on Christmas day before she came along.

Despite being a chef by trade, I have managed through years of idleness to get myself into a very comfortable situation of not having to play much, if any, of a role when it comes to Christmas dinner. However I couldn’t help but nose around the Nigella Christmas book that seemed to be providing minute by minute instructions to those who were cooking, and the notion of brining your turkey stood out. Brining is basically the process of submerging something in water with a salt content of 4-8% which helps to draw water into the meat and therefore helps to retain moisture during cooking. After a bit of online research it quickly became apparent that there is far more to brining than a compromise-free, juicy, roast turkey. Now, before the last remnants of my Christmas goodwill run out, I am here to briefly help you understand what you are gaining, and what you are losing, by brining your bird.

I’m pretty sure Nigella won’t mind my criticism. I’m sure she’s rich enough not to care, and besides, she has to go and spread avocado on toast, so she’s probably far too busy to be reading this.

I will not attempt to go too far into the science of it here for two main reasons. First, I am not a scientist. And second, there is a fantastic article all about it which does a better job of explaining the inner goings-on of your turkey than I ever could. http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/11/the-food-lab-the-truth-about-brining-turkey-thanksgiving.html

This year's turkey being brined

This year's turkey being brined

The objection I have can be summarised pretty straightforwardly. In short, when you brine a piece of meat, water is being drawn into it, and muscle proteins are dissolved which leads to less moisture being subsequently squeezed out of the bird during cooking. A standard brine can increase the weight of the meat by 10%. The reason the turkey is moist after brining is because it has been pumped full of salty water, diluting the flavour of the meat itself.

This is in opposition to regular ‘dry’ salting. As is pointed out at seriouseats.com, ‘Salting your meat is nearly as effective at preventing moisture loss, and the flavour gains are noticeable’, when compared to brining. So whilst being able to say you brined your turkey may seem like a simple solution to a dry turkey, is it really worth it? Probably not.

One important final piece of advice. If you do decide to brine your bird, please make sure you ignore Nigella’s instructions on water to salt ratio. She gives a particular ratio then instructs us to top up with water until the turkey is submerged. Unsurprisingly, this will completely ruin the ratio necessary for a proper brine. Figure out how much water you need and use 50g salt per litre.

So as not to lambast Nigella in future posts I must also highlight my number one Nigella curiosity, her bizarre claim in ‘Nigella Lawson: Kitchen’ to seemingly have invented the notion of frying gnocchi. Bizarre because not only did she quite obviously not, but because her statement implies that in all the years she worked as a food writer before the book was published, she never came across fried gnocchi.