Dear vegetarian, in this article I discuss a highly rewarding culinary practice that, due to your choice of diet, you will not be able enjoy. You might as well forgo this installment of Culinary Propaganda – there is nothing here for you.
Dear omnivore, you should read this article with great care as it contains information that will dramatically enhance your quality of life. I will explain to you the paramount importance of brining pork, chicken, and turkey prior to cooking. After reading this article, you will never, ever eat a pork loin or chicken breast that has not been brined.
Brine is a strong solution of salt and water. In addition to these two basic ingredients, brines can contain a variety of flavourings such as sugars or other sweeteners, herbs, spices, and aromatics such as citrus zests, onions, garlic, and ginger. Brining is the process of immersing foodstuffs in brine for a prolonged period of time, ranging from several hours to several days. In times of yore, brining was first and foremost a method of food preservation. The salt in brine protects foods immersed therein from bacterial decomposition. But aside from preservation, brining also affects the flavour and texture of foods – often in very beneficial ways. This is very much the case for certain types of meat.
In general, brining enhances the flavour and texture of “white” meats such as, pork, chicken, and turkey. Although any part of a pig, chicken, or turkey is improved by brining, the ones that benefit the most are the lean ones. In the case of pork, this includes all cuts from the loin. In the case of chicken and turkey, this includes especially the breasts. Other meats, and beef in particular, are not considered amenable to brining as it has an undesirable impact on the texture.
Due to their lack of fat, pork loins and chicken or turkey breasts are easily overcooked and tend to be insipid and dry even if cooked correctly. By immersing them in brine for a certain period of time, you can transform these often-unsatisfying meats into something quite delectable. Brining improves these meats in a number of ways. First, it makes them more tender as the salt in the brine breaks down certain proteins. Second, it makes them more moist as the cells in the meat swell up with brine, resulting in increased water content. Third, brining will yield meat that is perfectly seasoned. A modest amount of salt will evenly penetrate the flesh, resulting in very consistent salting throughout each piece of meat. After soaking in well-balanced brine, there is usually no need to add salt during cooking or at the table. Finally, you can subtly enhance the flavour of the meat by adding flavourings to the brine. This will flavour the meat more delicately than a typical marinade, complimenting its intrinsic taste rather than masking it.
Basic Brine Recipe
- 4 cups of water
- ¼ cup coarse, iodine-free salt (e.g., kosher salt, pickling salt)
- ¼ cup brown sugar, honey or maple syrup
- Herbs: fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, bay leaves
- Dry spices: coarse black peeper, paprika, cumin, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, mustard seeds
- Fresh aromatics: onion, garlic, ginger, citrus zests
To make the brine, you will put the water in a pot and you will add the salt, sugar and any flavourings that you are using. You will need to heat the water until all of the salt and sugar dissolve. Let the brine cool to room temperature. Put the meat in a non-metallic contained and pour the brine over it. Be sure to completely submerge the meat in the brine. Cover the brine and immersed meat and refrigerate. For pork chops, chicken breasts or thighs, and small pieces of turkey, you will want to start brining the night before, or at the latest in the morning on the day you plan to eat them; for pork roasts, whole chickens, and bigger pieces of turkey, you will want to start brining two or three days in advance. Before cooking, remove the meat from the brine and pat it dry with paper towels. Cook the meat as usual.
You may have to multiply the above recipe to produce a sufficient quantity of brine. There are no hard and fast rules for this – you will have to figure out how much you need yourself. To minimize the amount of brine required, use the smallest possible dish for brining. To give you an approximate idea, if you are brining a pork roast or a whole chicken, for example, multiply the above recipe by two or three; for a whole turkey, by three or four.
Brining, it cannot be denied, entails a modicum of extra work and advanced planning. This extra work and advanced preparation will doubtless strike many of you as onerous. I contend that the work involved is minimal – no more than 15 minutes of your time are needed to prepare the brine. Please do not be lazy, dear reader. I promise you that this small time investment will yield considerable flavour dividends.
I opine that it is your duty to make the most out of every piece of meat that you cook. An animal’s life has been taken to provide you with the piece of flesh that you are consuming. You should make sure that this animal did not die in vain! Dear reader, if pork loin or chicken breast is on the menu, it is your duty to brine it. I am serious. Without brining, you are simply wasting these meats. And even if you plan to dine on parts of pig or bird that are well-endowed in fat – such as ribs and shoulders in the case of pork and thighs and wings in the case of birds – I command you to brine them as well. You will not believe the sensations in your mouth.
You will write to culinary (dot) propaganda (at) gmail (dot) com to thank me. You are at liberty to write to the same address to ask me sensible questions about brining and other culinary matters.