Saturday, July 26, 2008
The beauty of brining
I'm a big advocate of brining protein. It locks in moisture and adds flavor, so how can you argue with that? I do get questions from a lot of people about how to brine, so I thought I'd get it down in writing. I'll leave it to Harold McGee or Shirley Corriher (or Alton Brown) to describe the way brining works. What to brine: poultry, pork, chicken, fish, shrimp. (For beef and lamb, you usually would just rub the meat with salt a hour before cooking, which is not brining.) Basic brine: I use 1/4 cup of kosher salt and 1/4 cup of sugar for each quart of water. Make sure it's completely dissolved. You need enough brine to cover what you're brining. Put the meat and brine into a non-reactive container that you can put into the refrigerator, or into a zip-top bag you can put into a pan while it is in the refrigerator. When the meat is ready (see timing below) remove the meat form the brine and rinse it thoroughly. Use whatever cooking method you were planning. Variations: - Use brown sugar, honey, or molasses in place of white sugar. Molasses or brown sugar are interesting with pork, honey with duck. - Add flavors to the brine. Start with 2 cups of boiling water and add herbs/spices and the salt and sugar. Try coriander, black pepper, and thyme with chicken, or herbes de Provence with duck or pork. Essentially any seasoning you'd use with an item will be good in the brine. Steep the seasonings for 30 minutes to make an infusion, then add 2 cups of cold water. You can even use black tea in a brine for chicken, especially if you're planning to fry the chicken. How long to brine: - Chicken breasts, pork chops: 45 - 90 minutes, depending on size/thickness - Shrimp and fish fillets: 15-20 minutes, again depending on size - Whole chickens can go overnight, as can a pork loin roast. Turkeys are more like 24-36 hours.