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Recipe: Tamari-Brined Turkey

Let’s talk turkey. Whether you roast, grill or deep-fry your bird, your cooking method only imparts so much flavor. Turkey is a gloriously lean protein, but it can leave a bit to be desired in the taste department — especially if it gets dry. 

The solution? Brine your bird before cooking. Doing so locks in moisture and adds flavor. What better way to do so than by incorporating the rich, umami taste of soy? Here’s your recipe for tamari-brined turkey. 

Why Brine Your Turkey With Tamari

Brining your bird entails using a salt and water solution to maintain moisture. The salt draws the moisture into the turkey, locking it in the cells while imparting flavor. 

The problem? The sodium content in many brines. Although the American Heart Association recommends taking in no more than 2,300 milligrams a day — 1,500 if you have high blood pressure — many Americans consume approximately 3,400. Is it any wonder that heart disease remains the number one killer? 

Here’s where the magic of tamari begins. You can slash the salt content of your brine by adding this ingredient. You get an even richer and meatier umami flavor without all the excess sodium that can make your doctor frown the next time they slap a sphygmomanometer on your arm. You can brine an entire 16 to 24-pound bird with only ½ cup of salt, two gallons of water and a bottle of tamari sauce.

Tamari blends perfectly with any other ingredients you may choose. That’s because it enhances the flavor of your dishes without altering the underlying taste. 

Plus, you don’t have to go to a specialty store to pick up this ingredient. You’ll find plenty of gluten-free tamari soy sauce lining traditional grocery shelves. 

How Long Does It Take to Brine Your Turkey?

Tamari offers a world of benefits, but you won’t get the most out of them if you race the clock. Brining a turkey isn’t labor-intensive, but it does take more than an hour or two to create the ultimate flavor explosion. 

You need to ensure that the salt fully dissolves before brining, which requires you to bring the liquid to a boil. However, you have to wait for it to cool before applying it to the bird — otherwise, you may foster bacteria growth. 

You’ll want to brine your turkey for anywhere from 8 to 18 hours, depending on the intensity of the flavor you desire. Please set a timer — going beyond that period results in a salty bird with a spongy texture. 

3 Recipes for Brining Your Turkey With Tamari 

If all you want is a juicy bird, your tamari-brined turkey will turn out tasty using only the ingredients above. However, many people prefer to get creative, enhancing their bird with a fuller flavor profile. What should you add to your brine mix? Try these ideas:

1. Southwestern-Brined Turkey

Do you like to keep things spicy? Kick up your brine by adding ancho and chipotle chile powder, cumin, garlic, honey and white wine. If you’re the brave sort, toss a Manzano into the mix. These peppers are hotter than a jalapeño but not quite at habanero level. They also impart a slight sweetness that perfectly complements the ancho and chipotle — if you can stand the heat. 

2. Honey and Sage-Brined Turkey

Maybe you prefer to keep things sweet and savory, not fiery. If so, consider adding some fresh herbs from your garden or windowsill to your brine. Honey helps lock in moisture and has antimicrobial properties. Sage and rosemary also have immunity-boosting effects — but their most important quality is enhancing the flavor of your bird. 

3. Apple and Maple-Brined Turkey

Are you the sort that enjoys life’s sweeter side?  Many people associate apples and maple with fall, and adding them to your brine adds a seasonal flavor to your bird faintly reminiscent of your favorite pancakes. Not to worry, though — the cloves keep the sweetness from going over the top. The acidity from the lemon juice also balances the orange and cinnamon. 

To Roast, Grill or Fry Your Bird 

Once you have your tamari-brined turkey ready to cook, you face yet another decision: which method to use. Each has unique advantages and disadvantages. 

Roasting is the traditional method of preparation, and it comes with the benefit of heating your home and making it smell delicious. If you choose this technique, you’ll want to baste your bird every 30 minutes or so to ensure that it stays moist and flavorful throughout, not only on the bottom. 

Grilling requires considerable time — but the results are worth it for many. The trick is cooking the bird adjacent to direct heat instead of over it, ensuring doneness throughout. The right utensils make it possible for you to maneuver your turkey for an even char. 

Pro-tip: it’s always wise to invest in a quality food thermometer regardless of the preparation method you choose. Undercooked turkey can cause salmonella poisoning, a potentially fatal condition for those with compromised immune systems. 

Smoking your turkey gives it a unique flavor profile. You’ll need a professional device or a large grill that allows you to use apple or hickory chunks to impart the signature smell and taste. 

Finally, deep-frying a turkey results in the juiciest bird, according to aficionados. However, this method can be dangerous — please follow all instructions and wear safety equipment to protect yourself from molten spatter. 

Tamari-Brined Turkey 

Turkey is a lean meat, but it lacks flavor if you don’t cook it right. Additionally, it can get dry, minus the right brine. 

If you’re reducing your salt intake or simply want more umami flavor, why not try one of the tamari-brined turkey recipes above? You’ll delight in your tasty results regardless of whether you roast, deep-fry or smoke your bird.

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