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.


apatrick said...

Hey Shelly, I just got a new BBQ and want to inject meat before grilling.
Any suggestions?
Yes, it's me!

ShellyJ said...

Hey Alan, nice to hear from you!

When you inject flavor into meat, you want to use something that is palatable to you -- so unless you're a commercial bacon facility, you don't want to inject brine. Use a very flavorful marinade. Adding oil to that marinade can add moistness to a very lean piece of meat, sort of like artificial marbling. For herbs and spices, I suggest experimenting with infusing a broth or stock with the flavorings, as the injected herbs and spices can leave unattractive "stripes" through your meat. (In fact, that's why I seldom inject, even if I a deep-frying a turkey. I don't like the needle tracks in my finished product.) To a couple of cups of boiling stock, add bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, or an Italian herb mix. Steep it until the mixture is cool, then strain. I have discoverd that a couple of drops of liquid "crab boil" can add a lot of flavor (and heat) to an injectable marinade. For bbq, one good approach is to use a spice rub that you leave on and refrigerate for several days.

-- Shelly