August 13th, 2012
So, this one will be short and sweet, and just under the wire again.
This is a technique that everyone should know and use on just about every piece of meat they can.
Brining is the soaking of food in a salt water solution for a period of time. Sometimes sugar, herbs and spices are added to the brine. This miraculous mixture can save meat from being dry, can improve the texture of firm meats and season food thoroughly and evenly. It’s usually reserved for animal proteins like meats and cheeses, but works equally well with firm fruits and vegetables.
As food soaks in salted water, the natural difference in salinity between the brine and the cells in the food cause salt to equalize between the two. Essentially, the salt naturally tries to balance itself out. Because salt is hygroscopic (meaning it’s prone to holding onto water), it ends up bringing more moisture with it as it enters the cell, leaving it with more water in it than when it started. If that water contains flavouring agents, they’re also carried into the cells.
Brined proteins also denature, whereby the protein strands unravel, coagulate and in the process hold onto more water as they’re cooked.
Sugar is often included in brines for the sake of flavour, preservation, as well as for its own similar hygroscopic abilities.
Due to its residual preservation abilities, brining is also a crucial step in many types of charcuterie and smoking. The higher concentrations of salt contained within their cells can kill microbes both within, and wanting to enter the food.
As brining larger or denser pieces of meat can take a fair amount of time, a similar process can occur with the heavy salting of meat for an hour or so before cooking. Salt generously (it’ll seem excessive) with kosher or another large grained salt and let sit for 1 hour for every inch of thickness. Salt will quickly penetrate into the meat.
Ratios of salt, sugar and water and soaking time vary by food you’re using them on, but there are plenty of guides that can be found all over the internet. Here’s about.com‘s list.
Naturally, it can be hard to have the forethought to brine every piece of meat you buy, but it is worth doing it as much as possible as it makes food juicier, tastier and more tender.
Salt is your friend.