Thanksgiving Tradition, Apple Brined Turkey

First, start with Turkey 101. Got that? Then, resume with my apple turkey brine tradition below.

Hands down, my Apple Brined Turkey recipe is an all time winner for a moist and flavorful turkey. Need more kitchen? If your oven is all jammed up – take it outdoors and grill it. Or, a Thanksgiving turkey solution: Cook 1 turkey in the oven and 1 on the grill.   

George’s Apple Brined Roasted Turkey

chefgeorgehirsch.com | George Hirsch Lifestyle

Brining is an overnight process requiring TWO days preparation.

If preparing a frozen turkey, be sure to thaw it in refrigerator well in advance. Brine the turkey in a large stockpot or a large food-safe-plastic bag.  The turkey needs to be completely submerged in brine, or you must turn turkey every couple hours. I prefer turkeys no larger than 12-14 pounds for best tenderness and flavor; and if grilling I have my butcher split the turkey for ease of brining and grilling. Cook additional turkeys if serving more than 12-14 people. As a guide, figure each pound of turkey on the bone feeds one person. 

STEP 1: First day

On the day prior to cooking: Brine for a 12-pound turkey; prepare a double brine recipe for larger turkey. 

Apple Brine Mixture

8 cups apple cider

1/4 cup Maple syrup

2/3 cup kosher salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 Tablespoon black peppercorns, coarsely crushed

2 bay leaves

To prepare brine, combine ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes or until sugar and salt dissolve. Cool completely. 

STEP 2: First day

Add Flavor Ingredients to Apple Brine Mixture:

6 garlic cloves, peeled & cut in half

1 onion, quartered

1 rib celery, chopped into two inch pieces

2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled & sliced

3 each sage leaves, rosemary sprigs, thyme

4 cups ice

Remove giblets and neck from turkey; reserve for making gravy. Rinse turkey with cold water; pat dry. Trim excess fat. Stuff body cavity with orange quarters, ice, onion, ginger, sage, rosemary and thyme. Place turkey in a large stockpot or food-safe-plastic bag. Pour apple brine mixture over turkey. Depending on size of turkey refrigerate for 6 hours for a split turkey, or 12 hours for a whole 12 pound, turning occasionally. Add one-hour bringing time per additional pound of turkey.

Spice Rub

1 Tablespoon fresh sage, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

To Roast:

1 yard kitchen twine

2 cups chicken broth or stock

4 Tablespoons butter

fresh ground black pepper

6 slices pancetta or bacon

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Remove turkey from brine, discard brine and orange quarters. Rinse turkey with cold water; pat dry. Lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under turkey. Tie legs together with kitchen twine. Place garlic, sage, thyme, parsley, onion, and broth in the bottom of a roasting pan. Place roasting rack in pan. Arrange turkey, breast side down, on roasting rack. Brush turkey back with 1 tablespoon butter; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350º.

Remove turkey from oven. Carefully turn turkey over, breast side up. Put turkey neck and giblets in pan. Brush turkey breast with 1 tablespoon butter; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon pepper; lay slices of pancetta over breasts. Bake at 350º for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into the center meaty part of thigh registers 170º. 

Cover breast of turkey loosely with foil if it browns too quickly. Remove turkey from oven; let stand 30 minutes. Pour off drippings and remove turkey neck and giblets for gravy; cover turkey to keep warm. 

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Meatballs for Goodness

After all these years, my nana's meatball recipe is still nurturing and comforting. I am delighted to share once again a simple recipe filled with goodness. Thank you nana for teaching me the essentials of a recipe, even those ingredients not listed here. 

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Nana’s Meatballs, as seen on George Hirsch Lifestyle

Makes 12 Jumbo, 24 large or 40 mini meatballs

chefgeorgehirsch.com | George Hirsch Lifestyle

3 pounds ground beef, 80 / 20 blend; can use combo of beef, pork, and veal

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 sweet onion, chopped fine

2 eggs, cracked and beaten

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

2 Tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

3 cups day old Italian bread, pulsed into crumbs

1/2 cup chicken broth, to soften bread crumbs (variable amount may have to add more broth just to soften crumbs) 

Fresh ground black pepper

* Note all ingredients should be very cold before blending. 

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In a mixer or by hand mix all ingredients until well blended. Dip hands in ice water before shaping into round balls.

Spray an oven-roasting pan with grease spray.

Use an ice cream and scoop up meatballs; roll by hand until they are shaped round. Do not over handle as to not over warm up meat. Repeat until all meat is used up. Do not over crowd meatballs to make it easier to move them while baking. 

Refrigerate meatballs for at least 30 minutes to chill. Prepare Tomato Sauce below.

Pre heat a large heavy gauge sauté pan to high heat, or if making a large quantity of meatballs brown in a hot oven at 425 degrees F. 

Roast meatballs for five minutes in oven or on stovetop just until they begin to brown. If roasting gently shake pan to move meatballs to turn over, or use a spatula for meatballs if browning in sauté pan. Continue cooking for a few additional minutes (or less if mini) or until meatballs are brown on the outside. Meatballs will not be fully cooked and will continue to cook in tomato sauce. 

Remove meatballs with a spatula and add to gently simmering sauce and continue cooking for 20-30 minutes. 

For the Tomato Sauce:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil 

1/2 cup minced sweet onion

6 cloves garlic, minced 

2 (28 ounce) cans crushed San Marzano Tomatoes

2 (6.5 ounce) cans tomato sauce

1 Tablespoon dried basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon oregano

Fresh ground black pepper

2 Tablespoons each fresh chopped parsley and basil

In a large saucepot sauté add olive oil, onion, and garlic over medium heat until light brown. Stir in crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Season with dried basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, pepper, and half of the parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cooked browned meatballs and top with fresh chopped parsley and basil before serving. 

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The G is Silent

Gnocchi, pronounced n-yo-key. This dish reminds me of one of my favorite places on earth - Castelletto di Montebenchi, the heart of this small medieval city in the Tuscany Region. One of my chef friends, Antonio from Northern Italy makes the best gnocchi ever! When I can't connect with Antonio, I just make my own.

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Gnocchi are excellent accompaniments for meat and poultry dishes. When prepared right they are light as pillows. The secret is not to over mix the dough and to use just the right amount of flour. There are so many ways to make gnocchi, I prefer to bake the potatoes instead of steaming to make a softer dough.

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Potato Gnocchi

chefgeorgehirsch.comGeorge Hirsch Lifestyle 

2 pounds russets (baking potatoes)

Approximately 2 cups flour (variable) 

1 large egg

A pinch of sea salt

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake potatoes until easily pierced with a fork or a paring knife will easy slip through potatoes. Cool slightly, then peel the potatoes. 

Mash them while they’re still warm (a potato ricer or food mill works best). Season the potatoes with a pinch of salt and slowly knead in enough flour to obtain a fairly firm, smooth, non-sticky dough; exactly how much flour depends on the moisture from the potatoes. Add the egg, and enough flour so the dough does not stick to your hands. 

Knead the dough for 4-5 minutes, as it will resemble regular pasta dough. Divide the dough into four pieces.

Roll the dough out into a rope shape about 2/3 of an inch thick, cut the rope into one-inch pieces, and gently score the pieces crosswise with a fork to obtain slight ridges. With your finger, gently roll the pressed doughback off the fork. This may take a little practice. If the dough sticks to the fork, dip the fork in flour before you press the dough against it. Making this shape will help the gnocchi grab on to the tasty sauce it’s served with. 

Cook the gnocchi in abundant salted boiling water, removing them with a slotted spoon a minute or two after they rise to the surface. Drain them well and serve them with a few leaves of sage, melted unsalted butter and Parmesan, or meat sauce, or pesto sauce. 

Serve immediately while they are full of steam. The gnocchi are wonderfully light when hot. Once they cool off they become dense like a tire without air.

Make ahead Tip: Place any remaining uncooked Gnocchi in a container, dust with corn meal and freeze until you are ready to boil.

George's Spicy Tomato Sauce

Makes 4 cups |chefgeorgehirsch.com

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup chopped pancetta

10 cloves garlic, chopped fine

1/2 chopped onion, chopped fine

1/4 cup prosciutto, chopped fine

2 cups canned plum San Marzano tomatoes, crushed

1/4 cup dry white wine

2-4 teaspoons hot pepper flakes

10-12 fresh basil leaves, lightly torn

Grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a saucepan and heat the olive oil.  Add the pancetta and cook until it becomes light brown.  Add the garlic, onion and prosciutto and cook 2-3 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, white wine, hot pepper flakes, basil and black pepper, stir well and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  You can regulate the spiciness of the dish by adding more or less hot pepper flakes.

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