This Week's Chef Tip: Brine Your Meat!
Brining is essentially soaking a protein in a salty water solution to infuse flavor and moisture. Brining meat is an awesome way to impart flavor and moisture into meats that need a little help (i.e. the less expensive cuts, leaner proteins, less desirable meat cuts, etc.). Typically, brining yields the most results on leaner cuts of meat that tend to dry out during the cooking process (turkey, chicken, pork chops/loin, some seafood), but the method can be used for many types of meats (pork shoulder pictured above). Brining also helps extend the shelf life of proteins--very useful for seafood.
When I was a kid, I deliberately filled up on Thanksgiving sides because I dreaded eating dry turkey. Luckily, I come from an Italian family who always provided a bounty of delicious sides and prelude courses before the main event, "Turkey!"
You get so used to dry turkey that you just accept it...but NOT ANYMORE!
With a few months of culinary school under my belt, it was now my responsibility to cook the Thanksgiving bird. I couldn't let my family down, so I researched and was introduced to the idea of brining meats. After speaking with some of my Chef/Professors, I was able to formulate a simple recipe for a brine for that year's turkey, and it paid off in a major way. Man, that was the best Thanksgiving turkey I've had (until I came across this across this post by Karen at the Modernist Cuisine blog: Building a Better Turkey--*for the serious home cooks).
Since then, I have experimented with many different brines depending on type of meat, but most brines have the same basic building blocks: water, salt, sweetener, and aromatics.
Simple Brine Recipe (for Meat and Poultry):
- 2 Qts Water
- 1/2 Cup Salt
- Heaping 1/4 Sugar (in this example I used brown sugar)
- Aromatics: 1 Sprig Thyme, 1 Sprig Rosemary, 1 ea Bay Leaf, 5 ea Crushed Garlic Cloves, 1 Tbsp Black Peppercorns
- 1 Qt Ice Cubes
- Add all ingredients except ice cubes to a sauce pot and bring to a boil.
- Once pot comes up to a boil, immediately remove from heat and add ice cubes. Allow to cool completely in refrigerator.
- Add meat to brine and refrigerate. The time in brine depends on the size of the meat. Typically, I brine a 2-3 pound pork roast or whole chicken overnight. For a turkey, you may need 24 hours or more, in brine. Seafood requires the least amount of time in brine--somewhere around 10 minutes to 30 minutes (typical seafood brines are just salty water).
Now, you can certainly substitute different sweeteners (cane sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, honey, sorghum, etc.), aromatics and spices, and you can even add alcohol or mustard to give it a distinct flavor.
Typical Ratio is 1 Part Salt to 1/2 Part Sweetener to 16 Parts Water or 1 Cup Salt to 1/2 Cup Sweetener to 1 Gallon of Water.
Overall, brining is a simple Chef Tip that yields great results. You can really impress your friends by keeping this trick in your back pocket when you host a dinner party.