What is brining? Brining is the process of soaking a meat (any meat) in a salt and water or salt, sugar and water solution (you can also add spices). Brining usually takes 6-12 hours depending on the type of meat and the size or portion you are working with.
Why do we brine?
Brining meat, for example a lovely thanksgiving turkey, helps to bring extra moisture and flavor into the meat via osmosis. What does that mean? Once the meat is placed into the brine the moisture from within the cells of the meat travels out into the brine solution -because the sodium content in the solution is higher than that of the meat. Once the solution has diluted the brine and an equilibrium is formed again the moisture begins to travel back into the meat (along with salt, sugar and other spices within the brine). The cell then expands to accommodate the extra moisture. During this process the outer protein structure of the cell is broken down by the high acid (sodium) content of the liquid. This structural breakdown creates a net around the cell which traps in the flavored moisture during brining as well as prevents the flavors and moisture from leaving the meat during cooking.
In the end…brining creates a more flavorful and juicer dinner!
How do we brine? Lets start with a turkey for say… Thanksgiving dinner.
You will need your cleaned turkey (all giblets etc out of the cavity) and a cooler, bucket or brining bag. I have a brining bag.
Next we need the brining solution (recipe below). I have the brining solution completely cooled in the pot I made it in and the giblets set aside in another pot for making stock (waist not…want not).
Pour the brine into the bag or cooler and combine with enough ice water to cover your turkey. If you aren’t sure how much ice water you need, error on the side of not enough. Once the turkey is in the bag add any additional liquid needed to cover (agitate slightly to mix in the extra water). Start with the breast meat down to infuse the maximum amount of moisture into the driest meat.
Finally place the cover on the cooler or seal the bag and place the turkey in a cool spot in your kitchen, your garage (or if the weather is cool enough on your porch – but be mindful of poachers if you take this approach). Let the meat sit in the brine for 6-12 hours depending on the size of the meat (I let this 14lb bird brine for 8 hours to maximize tenderness, moisture and flavor). Turn the meat once half way through brining if laid flat in a cooler.
You may be concerned about not having the bird in a fridge BUT FEAR NOT! You have your bird in a salty liquid which acts as a deterrent for bacterial growth.
Once the brining process is finished remove the meat from the brine and pat dry to prepare for cooking as usual. You do not need to rinse the bird as the spices that will remain on the outer skin will simply continue to flavor the skin and meat while cooking.
2-4 cups stock (vegetable, chicken, turkey etc)
1 cup salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
preferred seasonings (mix and play here to create a flavor palate you like)
—If you are unsure of your preference because you are starting out…try this combo for poultry:
palm full of thyme
1/2 palm full of cumin
1/4 palm full of paprika
2 cloves roughly chopped garlic
1/4 palm full freshly ground black pepper or full palm full of whole pepper corns (which ever you have)
Try this season combo for pork:
palm full rosemary
1/2 palm full cumin
1/2 palm full of lemon pepper
1/4 palm full of mustard seed
2 cloves roughly chopped garlic
Combine liquid, salt, sugar and spices in a pot and bring to a light boil. Cook until all of the salt and sugar have completely dissolved. Then remove from heat and allow to cool completely. (You can make your brine in advance and store in the refrigorator until you need it).