Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Brining Makes It Better

It's been a while since I posted a recipe, and while this brining recipe would have been very handy to have posted before Thanksgiving, Chanukkah, and Christmas, better late than never, no? And at least it's in time for New Year's!

My husband's wonderful boss' interest and curiosity has been piqued enough (by my husband's extolling the many virtues of brining) to give brining a whirl this year. Hubby's boss is thinking of brining a duck, which I think will be lovely. Brining really does make everything (well, almost everything) better!

And who better to give us the full ins and outs on brining than the masters at Cooks Illustrated? Download a pdf for the full info on brining, or follow the simple brine formula below to make your own mouth-wateringly flavorful and juicy bird.

I know my delicious heirloom breed Thanksgiving turkey would not have been anywhere near as tender without having brined it the night before cooking.

A Basic Brine for Richard

- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp Morton's Kosher Salt OR 1/4 table salt (if you must use the Cargill-produced Diamond Crystal kosher salt, then you'd want 1/2 cup of it)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- Any aromatics or herbs you'd like to add to marinade (ie, garlic, rosemary, etc.)
- 1 quart of water

(You want to use 1 quart of brine per pound of meat.)

Combine in a container large enough to hold the brine AND your bird, or use a brining bag/ziploc bag. Stir to dissolve salt and sugar. Make sure your bird is fully submerged and covered by brine if it's not in a brining bag. Leave it to soak up the brine and do its thing for an hour per pound -- though not less than 30 minutes!

(When I did my Thanksgiving turkey, I didn't have a container large enough so I left the turkey in breast-side down for most of the night and then flipped him when there was a quarter of the time remaining.)

Want to know why and how the heck brining works?
America's Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated explains it this way:

We find that soaking turkeys (as well as chicken and even pork chops) in a saltwater solution before cooking best protects delicate white meat. Whether we are roasting a turkey or grilling chicken parts, we have consistently found that brining keeps the meat juicier. Brining also gives delicate (and sometimes mushy) poultry a meatier, firmer consistency and seasons the meat down to the bone. (We also find that brining adds moisture to pork and shrimp and improves their texture and flavor when grilled.)

How does brining work? Brining promotes a change in the structure of the proteins in the muscle. The salt causes protein strands to become denatured, or unwound. This is the same process that occurs when proteins are exposed to heat, acid, or alcohol. When protein strands unwind, they get tangled up with one another, forming a matrix that traps water. Salt is commonly used to give processed meats a better texture. For example, hot dogs made without salt would be limp.

In most cases, we add sugar to the brine. Sugar has little if any effect on the texture of the meat, but it does add flavor and promotes better browning of the skin.

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