How to brine a turkey or chicken? I’m covering this simple method in today’s post and giving you my favorite go-to brine ingredients for succulent poultry every time.
I first started brining my chicken back when I got my hands on Mel Joulwan’s ahhhhmazing book Well Fed. Since then, I’ve created lots of different brines, mostly for lean chicken (think white meat) and pork. Letting the meat soak in brine, a salted water sometimes infused with herbs and spices, is sort of like a marinade.
Instead of just imparting flavor though, the brine keeps the meat moist and juicy which is always a challenge with leaner cuts. How does it work? Basically the salt causes the muscle protein to soften and get less tough when cooked. More moisture is retained during the cooking process.
If a little brining time is good, more must be better…right? Actually no. Oversoaking the meat will eventually cause moisture to be drawn out of the meat. The following method works for any lean meat—chicken, turkey, and shellfish like shrimp are great—and you can scale up or down depending on the quantity of protein you’re dealing with.
How To Brine a Turkey or Chicken
Prepare a container to hold the poultry. A stock pot will hold a smaller turkey while a very large bird will have to go in a clean, new bucket or other container lined with food-safe plastic.
Remove any giblets and pat the bird dry with paper towel.
Add the salt and spices to the container, then the appropriate amount of water. Stir well to dissolve the salt. (Recipe is below.)
Carefully add the turkey or chicken to the brine. Place the container in the refrigerator for the correct amount of time. You can’t leave this on the counter.
When the brining process is complete, remove the poultry and rinse off the excess salt and spices. Discard the brine. Pat the poultry dry with paper towels, then proceed with your preferred cooking method.
Basic Brine Recipe for Turkey (for a 10-pound bird)
Follow the directions above, allowing the turkey to brine for about 10 to 12 hours. Tip: Mix your brine ingredients (except the water) in a Mason jar ahead of time and store for when you’re busy. Mark on the lid how much you’ve made…enough for a 5-pound or 10-pound bird, for example.
*For a 5-pound whole chicken, halve the quantities. Brine for 5 hours.
**For a 20-pound turkey, double the quantities. Brine for about 24 hours.
Have a question? Leave it in the comments below, and I’ll get back to you!
Today I’m featuring six easy Paleo ingredients to transform almost any recipe!
If you’re new to Paleo and wondering how the heck you’re going to keep from reinventing the wheel and finding brand new recipes for everything, this is the post for you. The easiest version of Paleo is to stick to meat and eggs, veggies and some fruit and healthy fats but with a few basic swaps, you’ll recreate flavors and textures that you thought were off limits (minus the gut irritation and inflammation).
Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #1: Instead of cream or milk, use full-fat coconut milk.
If you’re not eating dairy anymore, that means staying away from milk and cream in recipes. Certain dishes will lack the creamy, unctuous mouthfeel that you’re familiar with and wind up tasting, well, watery. Full-fat coconut milk makes a darn good sub for whole milk or cream and while it does have a slightly coconutty flavor, I don’t find it overpowering. The best part? If you use coconut milk instead of milk, it’s almost always a 1 to 1 substitution.
If you’re allergic to coconut or don’t care for the taste, another great option is homemade almond milk. To make it extra rich, I cut the water in the recipe down from 4 cups to 3. Sure you can buy pre-made nut milks in your market’s refrigerated section but most of them have preservatives and other pointless ingredients.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes using coconut milk:
Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #2: Instead of butter, use ghee or coconut oil.
If you’re not down with butter, alternatives exist to mimic both the texture and / or flavor. (Note: grass-fed butter finds its way into some Paleo kitchens but some folks who are ultra sensitive to dairy proteins avoid it). The good news is that ghee (essentially clarified butter that’s been cooked a bit longer to have a caramelly, almost butterscotch flavor) gives the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and vitamin K2 in butter without the potentially problematic proteins. It’s basically butterfat. You can make your own or find jars in your market’s butter section. Bonus: it has a really high smoke point, making it ideal for high temperature cooking.
Avoiding all dairy? Coconut oil, which is mostly saturated fat, is a great butter stand-in because it’s solid below 77°F and has a moderately high smoke point. Sure, it tastes nothing like butter, but it’s really versatile (even great as a moisturizer, a body butter, a hair mask, a make up remover, etc.). Read more about coconut oil – which to use and which to avoid – in my article here.
Bonus: ghee is part of the Whole30, so if you’re planning to do one in January with me, stock up now!
Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #3: Instead of soy sauce, use coconut aminos.
So no…cavemen didn’t use coconut aminos, but they didn’t use soy sauce either. Remember, Paleo’s not a historical re-enactment of exactly what our ancestors ate. Soy sauce is responsible for that savory umami flavor that forms the background of so many dishes, Asian-inspired or otherwise, but soy sucks for so many reasons and is one of those “health” foods to avoid. What’s a savory-seeking saveur to do?
Use coconut aminos instead. Made from the fermented sap of the coconut tree, this savory liquid isn’t an *exact* doppelganger for your beloved bottle of soy sauce, but it’s the next best thing.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes that use coconut aminos:
Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #4: Instead of rice, use cauliflower “rice”.
If rice is off the menu because you’re eating strict Paleo, consider using “riced” cauliflower instead. Simply put, cauliflower rice is created by grating, blending or processing the white veggies down into rice-sized bits. Anything you put rice in, you can switch out for cauliflower instead. It becomes a blank canvas upon which you’ll create layers of flavor by adding spices, meats and other veggies.
My favorite way to rice cauliflower is putting it in the food processor though some folks swear by putting large cauli chunks in a blender full of water, blitzing it, then straining the “riced” pieces out. A cooking tip: small pieces cook faster and won’t get water-logged. Also, don’t overload the pan.
Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #5: Instead of white flour, use coconut flour.
This one’s tricky because coconut flour is mega absorbent so you can’t use it in a 1 to 1 ratio in recipes that call for white (wheat) flour. You can bake with it, use it as a “breading” for chicken or fish and use it as a thickener, but remember this ratio:
1 cup white flour = 1/4 cup coconut flour
Sometimes, it’s more like 1/3 cup coconut flour, but this general range works.
A word to the wise: if you’re planning to do a lot of Paleo baking (which I don’t recommend) coconut flour is expensive. It’s also made from dried, very finely ground coconut meat so it’s pretty dense in calories. I use it sparingly, mostly as a thickening agent.
Easy Paleo Recipe Substitute #6: Instead of wine (for flavor), use homemade broth.
Many recipes call for red or white wine in soups, stews and sauces because it adds a layer of flavor. And whether you side with Julia Child or not (she famously said, “I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.”) there is a way to substitute for the alcohol in your recipes: use homemade broth. Sure, you could do store-bought broth if you’re in a pinch, but you’ll want to find a brand that’s pretty squeaky clean.
My favorite way to make homemade broth: save the bones from chicken thighs or a whole chicken (or you can buy grass-fed beef bones, lamb neck bones, etc….whatever you fancy), put them in a crock pot and cover them with water (sometimes I add a halved leek or other veggie trimmings like the nubby tops of carrots or leftover celery) for flavor. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar (bonus if you add a bit of fish sauce like Nom Nom Paleo does). Keep on low for 24 hours, strain and use. Can be frozen or used fresh. As an added bonus, it’ll be rich in minerals and gelatin. Bone juice, for the win!
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Have you used any of these easy Paleo recipe subs before? What’s your favorite that I left off the list? Leave me a comment below.
Coconut milk won’t solidify no matter what you’ve tried?! It’s a common problem with a simple explanation.
With the growing popularity of Paleo and dairy-free recipes becoming more plentiful, you’ll probably run into dishes that call for the cream from a can of coconut milk as an ingredient (even my Paleo Tzatziki Sauce and Paleo Cucumber Mint Raita list it). Usually, you’re supposed to put the can in the fridge for upwards of 24 hours, then be able to open the can and spoon the solidified cream off the top.
If you’ve ever followed those instructions only to open the can and find your coconut milk’s still soupy, it’s pretty frustrating (especially if you’re making something where a very thick texture is a requirement like coconut whipped cream). So what gives?
Back to Basics…What is Coconut Milk?
When fresh coconut meat is grated down with water, the liquid yielded is call coconut milk. It’s a combination of the water and the different healthy fats in the coconut meat such as fast-burning MCT oil (medium chain triglyercides) and saturated fat.
When it’s prepared via blending, the fat component (often called coconut cream) gets suspended in the watery component, and it appears to combine. But when left to sit undisturbed, the coconut milk will separate into two layers much like a bottle of oil & vinegar salad dressing. [Bonus science nerdiness: the fat is hydrophobic (water-fearing) and is rejected from the water layer.] Normally, the top, semi-hard cream layer is what you’d scoop out and use for recipes.
Why Your Coconut Milk Won’t Solidify
One word: emulsifiers.
Emulsifiers are chemical additives which cause the fatty and watery layers to stop separating from one another, and if they’re in your coconut milk, you’ll probably never get that thick creamy layer at the top of the can no matter what you do. [Another common way to get fatty and watery components to emulsify is by introducing air like you’d do when making homemade mayo.]
Common Coconut Milk Emulsifiers & Additives
1) Guar gum. This is a carbohydrate compound (polysaccharide) that comes from guar beans. It’s very commonly used to thicken coconut milk and cause it to stay emulsified. Often found in canned coconut milk.
2) Carrageenan. Derived from seaweed, this is another polysaccharide carbohydrate used to thicken coconut milk, though more commonly the type sold in paper cartons (not recommended because it’s often full of other junk). Carrageenan’s been implicated as having some pretty gnarly effects on the gut, among other things. Read more about it here.
3) Methyl cellulose or corn starch. More carbohdyrates / polysaccharides used to thicken and emulsify coconut milk.
4) Sodium or potassium metabisulfate. Though not used as an emulsifier, this chemical additive’s put in coconut milk as a preservative / bleaching agent to keep the color white.
The Solution to Get Your Coconut Milk to Solidify?
Buy a brand that doesn’t contain emulsifiers and preservatives. Better yet, look for a brand that only has two ingredients: coconut and water. My favorites are here and here. Both fit the bill and are sold in BPA-free cans, too. You can also make your own coconut milk at home (click here for a great recipe).
Have you ever had trouble with this? Does the answer surprise you?
There are lots of methods for making hardboiled eggs, but I’ve always found good luck with this one. Some readers on Facebook asked for tips on peeling the eggs once they’re cooked, and here were some of the most common replies:
Don’t use eggs you just purchased. Keep them for a few days before you boil them. As the egg gets older, the white shrinks a bit and makes it easier to peel.
Fancy schmancy meat thermometers are cool and all, but what about those instances where you just don’t have one? Who, when they’re going camping, says, “Honey, we should bring the meat thermometer!” Who calls a friend to make sure there will be one at the next barbeque? The point is that it’s easy to test how well meat is cooked with this simple trick. All you need are two hands.
For each level of doneness, you’ll touch a finger to your thumb. Keep your hand relaxed. Then, using the opposite hand, poke the fleshy part at the base of your thumb. Feel that? That’s how a cut of meat would feel if you poked it with your finger when it’s cooked to that point. See, easy!
For rare, touch index finger to thumb. Do the poke test. That’s what rare meat feels like.
For medium-rare, touch middle finger to thumb.
For medium, touch ring finger to thumb.
For medium-well, touch pinkie to thumb.
Last but not least, for well-done (if you’re cooking well-done steak, we need to have a chat ), open your hand and poke the center of your palm.
For chicken or pork (where generally, well-done is the way to go), use the open palm test.
Try it and let me know what you think in the comments!
If salt is your idea of spicing up your food, there’s a whole world of flavor that you’re missing out on! Stop eating boring food! Changing up your spices can help you globe-trot without having to leave your kitchen. For many, the idea of buying/using spices (besides the normal black pepper, garlic powder and dried parsley) can be daunting. Here are some tips:
Many health food stores offer spices in bulk food containers so you can buy as little or as much as you like. This is a great way to try a small quantity of a spice to see if you’ll like it without having to shell out and then be disappointed later. Also, check the store or your farmer’s market for locally produced brands, which can be less expensive.
One of the beautiful spices vendors at the Ubud public market in Bali on my trip last year. Seeing this picture makes me think of galangal, turmeric and delicious vanilla beans!
Invest in a good spice rack, and keep it in plain sight. This will encourage you to keep everything organized and also be a constant reminder to use your spices! If you clutter them away in the dark recesses of your pantry you’ll be less likely to remember them!
Make your own spice blends. This gives you more variety from the basic ingredients you have on hand (think of mixing and matching in different combinations) and allows you to make just enough so you’re always using fresh spices. (Hint: Ground spices have a shorter shelf life than whole seeds.) My favorite cookbook, Well Fed by Melissa Joulwan of The Clothes Make the Girl, has some awesome spice blends: sausage seasoning, Rogan Josh seasoning and Ras El Hanout. If you make the blends ahead of time, you’ll always have them on hand to toss into your favorite crock pot creation or on top of meats and veggies.