The Beauty of Brining
Meat that dries out quickly during cooking, such poultry and pork, can be a real headache – as anyone who’s served up a dry turkey will know. Fortunately, there’s an incredibly simple and effective method of preventing this from happening. So simple, in fact, that it’s hard to believe it’s not more widely known and used.
We’re talking, of course, about brining.
Brining is basically placing meat in a mixture of salt and water (and perhaps some aromatics and flavourings) for a while. It’s as simple as that. The salt renders the meat tender by breaking down the muscle filaments, while at the same time altering the muscle cells so that they can absorb the brine-water. The result is that it’s a lot less likely to dry out.
There are other benefits, too. The salt penetrating the meat helps season it well. And any aromatics in the brining solution will penetrate the flesh alongside the salt, giving extra flavour.
So, what are you waiting for? For a basic brine, take a large pot, measure and pour in an amount of water, and then add between 6g and 15g of salt per 100g of that water. (A higher solution is suitable for denser, thicker flesh, such as pork belly.) Whisk until the salt fully dissolves. (For solutions above 10g you will probably have to warm the water to dissolve the salt, and then let it cool completely. And if you’re adding aromatics you’ll definitely have to do so in order to infuse their flavours.)
Once this is done (and cooled), add your meat or fish and place in the fridge for a period of time – ten minutes should be enough for delicate fish flesh; overnight works well for whole chicken and turkey, while a denser piece of meat may need a couple of days. You may need to experiment a bit within these parameters of time and salt concentration to get exactly the texture you want.
At the end of brining, it’s important to rinse off the salt by placing the brined food in fresh cold water for an hour, changing the water every quarter of an hour. It’s equally important then to pat it thoroughly dry because, if it’s still wet, when it goes in the frying pan or roasting tray, it won’t brown properly.