We be Brining, come eat your science with a heaping pile of salt (NaCl).
I’ve been wanting to make some things that require brining before I make them so before I got to the things being brined, I decided I needed to talk about brining in a general sense first. So lets get into it.
You can find a lot of uber technical information about how brining works out there, Stella Culinary has a pretty in-depth write up if you want to spend 2 hours learning about brining from a molecular standpoint. For the rest of you I’ll try to sum it up quickly while not losing any of the technical “stuff”. I will put the herp-derp “Brining for Dummies” versions in bold. Skip past the nonsense and focus on the bold if you’d like.
At the end I’ve included a basic lemon herb brine.
Brining is essentially just soaking something in a salt solution.
Brine makes stuff moist and juicy.
The main reason we brine meats is so that we can add moisture to the meat, thus allowing us to avoid dry meats. Meat loses moisture through the cooking process, brining allows us to kind of “pump” the meat full of moisture ahead of time to help offset it. Think of a guy eating before he works out so he can have access to proteins and carbohydrates to burn. This is especially helpful when dealing with things like chicken breast, turkey, and pork loins.
Brine makes stuff tender.
Brining also adds tenderness to the meat from the salt actually denaturing the proteins, breaking down the muscle fibers, and letting the brine get trapped between broken bonds of protein.
Brine can add flavor.
Another side effect of brining is if we brine in a herb/flavored brine the meat will retain some of this flavor inside of it, adding to the overall taste of what we are making.
Historically brining was thought to work through osmosis but this has since been debunked by many food scientists, like Kenji Lopez, and is now understood to function through diffusion which essentially means the molecules will eventually reach equilibrium. Through diffusion the salt (sodium chloride) molecules will spread throughout our meat (ideally) helping us break down muscle tissue (tenderize) and help us retain moisture.
Anything over 1 cup per gallon is kinda overkill.
On the subject of brining concentration, most experts agree that anything above 6% salt by volume is pointless. 1 cup per gallon is pretty much the most you’ll ever want to use, with most recipes calling for between 1/2 cup and 3/4 cups per gallon…kosher salt is bulkier so you will need to use more if thats what you’re using, depending on the type of kosher salt. For the sake of keeping things simple I just avoid it and stick to your basic table salt.
Sidenote…Make sure you rinse the meat after brining
At its heart a brine must contain a simple combination of
- 1 Gallon Water
- 2/3 cup salt
After that, its up to the cook to decide if they want to sweeten it with sugar, or add anything to impart any flavor.
Now that we have that away I will give you a sample brine from Thomas Keller that he uses for his fried chicken. This is a recipe for 10 pounds of chicken so scale back on the ingredients as necessary based on how much you’re actually making.
- 5 Lemons, Halved
- 24 Bay Leaves
- 1 Bunch Flat-Leaf Parsely
- 1 Bunch Thyme
- 1/2 Cup Clover Honey
- 1 Head Garlic
- 1/4 cup Black Peppercorns
- 2/3 cup salt per gallon of water.
You’ll notice his recipe calls for 1 cup kosher salt per gallon of water, because kosher salt is bulkier you can reduce the salt content of his brine to like 2/3 cup per gallon if you’re using table salt.
Just toss all your stuff into a big pot.
Add your water and bring to a nice simmer for 1 minute while stirring. You want to make sure all the salt dissolves and all those flavors diffuse in the brine nicely.
This is a really nice brine that adds a hint of herby lemon-ness to whatever is you’re trying to brine, particularly good with chicken. I use it alot and will be referencing it in future posts.