Monday, December 29, 2014 Tevet 7, 5775

Bulk Up Through Brining

June 29, 2006 By:
Andrew Schloss, FE Feature
Posted In 
Comment0
Enlarge Image »
The intense heat needed for grilling tends to dry out foods like chicken, fish and veal, which have delicate fibers and little interior fat. Thus, these items become prime candidates for brining. Soaking in brine that is around 5 percent salt by weight, for as little as an hour before grilling, can make meat noticeably juicier and preserve its tenderness. Note, however, that when the candidate for brining has been koshered, it already contains added salt, so kosher meat does not work with most brine recipes.

Brine works in two specific ways. Salt dissolves the protein in contracting muscle filaments, making them looser and, therefore, more tender. It also increases the capacity of muscle cells to bond with water, causing them to absorb water from the brine, increasing their weight by as much as 10 percent.

As the water infuses into the meat, any flavorful components from herbs, spices or flavorful liquids are also absorbed, making brines an effective way to season meats beneath the surface. When meat cooks, it naturally loses moisture - about 20 percent - but by bulking up the moisture in meat through brining before it goes on the grill, you can effectively cut the net loss of juices by half.

The biggest disadvantage in using brine is that the drippings from the meat will tend to be too salty to use as a base for a sauce. This is only a problem when you are grill-roasting a turkey or other large poultry for which you might want to prepare gravy.

The best candidates for brining are those meats that tend to dry out on the grill. Lean cuts of chicken and turkey benefit greatly from brining, but so do some fattier cuts. Beef spareribs, for instance, which have a good amount of fat but tend to toughen during grilling, are transformed by the tenderizing effects of brine.

Since brining works from the outside in, the meat fibers closest to the surface are the ones that reap most of the benefits, and since these are the parts that tend to dry out most during cooking, even a short period of soaking can help.

Incomplete brining will give you less than optimum moisture retention, but prolonged brining can impregnate an ingredient with brine to disastrous effect, especially when the muscle tissue is delicate, like that of fish.

Optimal brining time depends on a number of factors, including the density of the ingredient, its size, shape and the strength of the brine.

Use this chart as a general guideline.

• Brine time for thin fish: 30 minutes;

• Brine time for thick fish and boneless poultry: 1 hour;

• Brine time for bone-in poultry and steaks: 2 to 3 hours;

• Brine time for whole poultry and other roasts: 3 to 8 hours (depending on size).

The amount of time needed for brining is approximate, and can be adjusted to fit your schedule; 30 minutes to an hour more will not be disastrous, but brining too long will cause the flesh to breakdown and absorb too much flavor.

If that should occur, wash the brined food in several changes of cold water before grilling. If the meat is done brining but you're not ready to cook it, remove it from the brine, wipe off any excess, and then store it tightly wrapped in a refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

The following brines are lower in salt than traditional recipes to work better with kosher meat.

• • •

The combination of cumin and coriander may be exotic in mainstream America, but it's one of the most common pairings in world cuisine, helping to define the flavors of North Africa, the Middle East, India and Latin America. This brine happens to infuse whatever it touches with a fragrant base that can be made spicy, sweet, floral or cooling by adding a chile pepper to the mix, substituting honey for the sugar or by replacing the cilantro with freshly chopped mint.

It's good with fish (salmon or any type of white-fleshed fish); poultry (chicken, turkey, game hen or other types of fowl); or meat (beef).

Cumin, Coriander and Lime Brine
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup water
2 Tbsp. lime juice
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

Combine the ingredients in a zipper-lock bag; seal and shake until the salt and sugar dissolve, about 30 seconds.

Put the bag in a bowl just large enough to hold it snugly. Open the bag and add the meat. Seal the zipper, leaving about an inch open; push on the bag to release any trapped air through the opening, and close the zipper completely.

Massage the liquid gently into the meat and refrigerate for the suggested time.

Makes about 11/4 cups.

• • •

Orange-Fennel Brine, a medium-strength brine, is built to infuse fish, poultry and veal with the aromas and flavors of Provençe. Fennel, anise and licorice all have a similar base flavor, and can be interchanged in this brine, although fennel seed will give you the most authentic Provençal flavor. Note: Do not substitute fresh fennel or anise bulb for the seed; their flavor's not nearly intense enough.

This brine is good with fish (salmon, any white-fleshed fish); poultry (chicken, turkey, game hen); or meat (lamb, veal).

Orange-Fennel Brine
2 cups orange juice
2 Tbsps. sugar
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
2 Tbsps. fennel or aniseed

Combine the ingredients in a zipper-lock bag; seal and shake until the salt and sugar dissolve, about 30 seconds.

Put bag in a bowl just large enough to hold it snugly.

Open the bag, and add the meat. Seal the zipper, leaving about an inch open; push on the bag to release any trapped air through the opening, and close the zipper completely.

Massage liquid gently into the meat and refrigerate for the suggested time.

Makes about 2 cups.

• • •

Without the salt, Margarita Brine would be drinkable. It's got the classic margarita flavors: tequila, lime and orange. Use this whenever you want a Mexican flair infused into your entree.

It's good with fish (salmon, any white-fleshed fish); poultry (chicken, turkey, game hen); or meat (beef, veal).

Margarita Brine
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup tequila
juice of 1 lime
2 Tbsps. triple sec
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. grated tangerine or orange zest

Combine the ingredients in a zipper-lock bag; seal and shake until the salt and sugar dissolve, about 30 seconds.

Put bag in a bowl just large enough to hold it snugly.

Open the bag; add the meat. Seal the zipper, leaving about an inch open; push on the bag to release any trapped air, and close the zipper completely.

Massage the liquid gently into the meat and refrigerate for the suggested time.

Makes 11/3 cups.

• • •

If you like the flavor of steak sauce with grilled meat, this brine will infuse its essence deep into the fibers of a steak or roast.

It's good with poultry (duck, goose, game hen) or meat (beef, lamb).

Steakhouse Brine
2 Tbsps. sugar
1/4 cup steak sauce, such as A1
3 Tbsps. steak seasoning
1/4 cup ketchup
1 cup water

Combine the ingredients in a zipper-lock bag; seal and shake until the salt and sugar dissolve, about 30 seconds.

Put bag in a bowl just large enough to hold it snugly.

Open the bag; add the meat. Seal the zipper, leaving about an inch open; push on the bag to release any trapped air, and close the zipper completely.

Massage the liquid gently into the meat and refrigerate for the suggested time.

Makes about 13/4 cups.

Add a smoky redolence to this brine by using a chipotle steak sauce or by adding a little chipotle hot sauce.

• • •

Chai - a blend of black tea, honey and spices, usually cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and pepper - is served with warm milk throughout Southeast Asia. About 10 years ago, it started to be manufactured commercially in America. Now, it's available in tea bags, as liquid tea, instant tea and, most commonly, as a tea concentrate. The concentrate is an instant flavor boost; just add salt and water to turn it into brine.

It's good with fish; poultry, (chicken, turkey, game hen, duck, goose); or meat (beef, lamb, veal).

Apple-Chai Brine
1 cup apple cider
1 cup chai concentrate
11/2 Tbsps. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black peppercorn, cracked

Combine the ingredients in a zipper-lock bag; seal and shake until the salt and sugar dissolve, about 30 seconds.

Put bag in a bowl just large enough to hold it snugly.

Open the bag; add the meat. Seal the zipper, leaving about an inch open; push on the bag to release any trapped air, and close the zipper completely.

Massage the liquid gently into the meat and refrigerate for the suggested time.

Makes about 2 cups.

Vary the fruit with different types of cider, juice and fruit nectar. Try apricot, pear, peach, pineapple, mango or papaya.

• • •

If you want to infuse grilled food with the flavor of barbecue sauce without the glop, Molasses Brine is for you.

It's good with fish (salmon or any oily fish); poultry (duck, chicken, turkey, game hen); or meat (beef, lamb).

Molasses Brine
13/4 cups water
2 Tbsps. apple-cider vinegar
2 Tbsps. kosher salt
2 Tbsps. unsulphured molasses
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. ketchup

Combine ingredients in a zipper bag; seal and shake until salt and sugar dissolve, about 30 seconds.

Put bag in a bowl just large enough to hold it snugly.

Open the bag; add the meat. Seal the zipper, leaving about an inch open; push on the bag to release any trapped air, and close the zipper completely.

Massage the liquid gently into the meat and refrigerate for the suggested time.

Makes about 2 cups.

Andrew Schloss is a food-industry consultant and a cookbook author. His current book is Almost From Scratch: 600 Recipes for the New Convenience Cuisine.

Comments on this Article

Advertisement