Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tips - Brining

If you are familiar with Daniel and I by now, you know that we are students. You also know that I, Corinne, am not a natural born cook. No, not even close. I'm very creative in other ways, but my natural-born passions lie in art, and education... I have plenty of other passions, well, like, cooking. But I was born to teach. I have a lot of background in training and teaching and education. I'm currently in school to become a teacher... I'm almost done too!!!

Since I have various passions, they tend to intermingle and manifest in each other. Cooking is no exception, at least for me. I love learning about anything to do with food, and even better yet, teaching about it. I decided when we started this blog that I wanted to incorporate my inner-teacher somehow... Recipes are cooks' book-reports. Cookbooks are textbooks of the culinary world. Cooking is the ultimate hands-on science experiment. While I am no expert by any means on culinary knowledge, I am learning, quickly, and who better to teach amatuers than an amatuer herself? It may seem a silly concept, but have you ever had a teacher who knew the material so well they just couldn't break it down to your level? I'm here to break it down.

The first "lesson" I'd like to teach is about brining. Brining is a culinary trick that has gained quite a bit of popularity over the past few years. This is for a good reason: It works! We knew brining was good for making juicy tender meat, and we've heard a lot of hype about it especially around the holidays and turkey-time. We learned that brining also flavors your meat and makes it extra juicy. And, if you are worried about sodium content, (as Daniel and I have to) using kosher salt has essentially less sodium than table salt (click on the link to find out why.)

The general ratio for brining is 1:16. One cup of salt to sixteen cups of water (there are sixteen cups of water in a gallon). Or, one tablespoon of salt to one cup of water, since there are sixteen tablespoons in one cup.
When you are brining something as small as a couple of chicken breasts, you don't need to make gallons worth of brine (which you would do for say, a whole turkey). Depending on the size of the breasts, you would make about a 2-3 cup recipe.
Another thing you can do when brining is add any combination of spices/herbs that will get soaked up by the meat in the process, adding extra flavor to juicy-goodness. (To learn why and how brining works, go to this cool Cooks Illustrated page - for extra credit of course ;-)

To make the brine, put your salt in the bottom of bowl or measuring cup (big enough that it will hold the amount of water you need). Make sure you are using cold water, as warm water will not be food-safe. Slowly pour the proper amount of water into the bowl while whisking constantly. Since the water is cold the salt will not dissolve as fast, just be patient and keep stirring until the salt granules are gone.

Now, add your peppercorns (I usually do twice as many as the number of cups of water I am using (so if I'm using 3 cups of water, I put in 6 peppercorns... you don't have to be this exact, or if you want lots of peppery taste, go ahead and put more... experiment a bit!)
Also, put in your garlic and herbs (such as rosemary, parsley, thyme, etc). Stir.

Now it's time to decide what you want to brine your meat in. If you are brining a turkey, a sanitized bucket, or even a sanitized cooler works (coolers are great because they are big and you can drain the cooler from the tap on the side when you are done, plus they keep your bird cold.) If you are doing something as small as the chicken breasts we usually do, a zip-top bag will work.
Place your meat inside the brining container first, in this case, the zip-top bag. Now, hold the bag open and pour the brining solution into the bag carefully (at this point making the brine in a measuring cup like the one you see in the pictures come is very handy because of the pour-spout)

Zip the bag almost the whole way. Now, very carefully lay the bag down flat almost all of the way, so the bubbles go towards the top and you can squeeze them out slowly. This doesn't have to be perfect, a few bubbles in the bag are fine, as long as your meat is fully submerged in the brining solution. Make sure you zip the bag the rest of the way before you lay it down completely.

Now, to avoid holes in the bag - and nasty raw-chicken brine everywhere, place the bag inside a bowl, so if any leaks do appear the bowl catches it. (This is where I don't skimp brand wise, I've had some awful times with bags and holes and briney-nastiness all over my fridge.)
Place your bowl in the refrigerator (to keep the meat at the correct food-safe temperature).

Now for brining-times. The time it takes to brine something depends on what you are brining. For poultry, a good rule of thumb is about 2 hours per pound of meat, and probably less if the pieces are cut (as opposed to a whole chicken or turkey)
For a couple of chicken breasts, 2-3 hours is plenty of time.* For a whole turkey, you may need to brine it overnight.

Once your meat has been brined, be sure to rinse it off and pat dry (other wise you will have an overly salty taste) Also, you don't need to re-salt the meat before cooking.

*Some say you need to adjust the amount of salt if the meat will be in the brine longer than suggested, but our chicken has never tasted "too salty" from the effects of sitting in the brine for an extra day. That said, we once did Cornish hens to eat on a Friday (we made the brine for them on a Thursday night) but our guests couldn't make it either Friday or Saturday, so we ended up eating the hens on Sunday - they had brined for 3 1/2 days at that point... they were very moist despite dry roasting them, but the saltiness was very noticeable. It seems that a few extra hours won't hurt, but a few extra days will make a difference.Stumble Upon Toolbar

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Ivy said...

Hi Corine, thanks for the friend invite in Group Recipes. I saw that you had a blog and came over to meet you. I saw that you are a member of the GCC, Foodbuzz, the Leftover Queen so am I, so we came find each other over there as well. That was a great tutorial about brining. I have neglected Group Recipes lately, although I have made the best friends from there but I do not seem to find as much time as I need. Shall go back at GR to accept your friend invitation and hope to see you over at my blog as well.

Sandra Gordon said...

Great tips! I'm having all sorts of brining visions. :) Can't wait to try some combinations and see what happens.

I completely understand and agree about the 'teaching' aspect of a cooking blog. I am a teacher, myself, and I find I can't/won't get away from it, no matter what I am doing (I taught high school for several years and trained volunteers for several years at my next job). I'm a sahm and writing now, but I still do a certain amount of teaching in my volunteer things. It really gets in your blood!

I certainly wish you all the best as you work on your teaching credentials. It's a lot of work but you'll find it is worth every minute!