Friday, June 12, 2009

A Tip!

It occurs to me that the name of this site implies there will be tips here. Go figure. :) But so far what I've posted has been mainly a bunch of information about getting your kitchen easier to cook in, and taking care of your tools.

So, here's one of the best tips I've encountered: BRINE STUFF!

Why? Because it will be juicier and taste better. Instead of just seasoning the outside of your meat, the seasonings and flavors wind up dispersed throughout. And the salt will have caused the cells in the meat to absorb moisture.

I have witnessed people who waxed rhapsodic about how brining changed their turkey breast meat from dry and chewy to moist and wonderful. However, if you are used to dry and stringy breast meat, you are overcooking. All things being equal, brining will certainly help. But, stop overcooking, and the results will be nothing short of amazing. I'll get into how not to overcook in another post, however. Anyway...

What can you brine? Well, just about any kind of meat, but what seems to benefit the most (or at least the most dramatically) is white meat. Chicken, turkey, pork, and even some fish and shellfish.

What is a brine? It can be as simple as salt dissolved in water. Or it can be a good deal more complex, with a bunch of seasonings, and the water replaced with something like orange juice, or even wine. All it absolutely needs to be a brine, though, is some kind of water-based liquid, and salt. (Table salt; save your fancier varieties for when it matters.)

How hard is brining to do? It's almost ridiculously simple. A typical brine for pork would be 1/4 cup salt to 8 cups water. You mix this up, put it, along with your pork, in a large ziplock bag in the fridge. How long you should leave it there depends on the thickness of the meat. A roast you could leave overnight, while chops will only take three to four hours.

Shrimp benefits enormously from brining. Since they are so small, this is generally done more quickly in a stronger solution: 1/4 cup salt to 4 cups of cold water, for each pound of shrimp. Brine for 30 minutes. For added sweetness, which goes well with shrimp, you can also add 1/4 cup sugar, but this is not really necessary. Sugar or not, this will turn out plump, tender, juicy shrimp. Shrimp brining, by the way, can be done in a bowl on the counter, since it happens so quickly.

For the holiday turkey, brining can be an amazing thing. Use the same ratio of salt to water as the pork brine, but of course in a much larger quantity. Or, it can be done for a shorter time with twice the amount of salt at about one hour per pound. Since over-brining is possible, which makes the meat too salty, I prefer the weaker brine, over a longer period. I often thaw my bird in the brine solution. If you do this, make sure that your water never gets over 40 degrees, however. In my climate, this merely means that I must keep the container outside, making sure animals can't get into it. If you live in a climate where this is not feasable however, often a camping cooler makes a good brining container. Use a thermometer, and ice in the brine, and replenish the ice when necessary.

For many, this is enough information to begin brining, and is certainly enough to start producing juicy, flavorful meat.
However, if you know anything about me, you will know that I have to know why it works.

So, here is the admittedly over-simplified explanation. Cells, even no longer living ones, want the salinity (saltiness) of the liquid outside them to match the salinity of the water inside them. When you put meat in a brine, first the cells will release water to dilute the salinity of the brine. This is why packing meat in dry salt dries it out.

But, since a brine is a liquid, they will reabsorb the brine to replace the lost water. So, each cell of your meat will absorb some of the brine, and, of course, the flavor of that brine. And since brine is more flavorful than water, the meat will be more flavorful.

Brining is an easy way to make your cooking taste better and be more juicy. Try it. :)

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