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Brining is a cooking technique in which meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables are treated in a mixture of liquid or a dry rub -- frequently salt, or concentrated salt water. The purpose of pretreating food with a brine is for tenderizing. It also enhances the flavor of meat, fish, and vegetables. The amount of time it takes for brining is determined by the type of food and weight. A general rule of thumb is to soak the food for one hour per pound. For shrimp, brining time is about 30 minutes, and…

a whole chicken can take 4 to 5 hours.

What is Brine

A basic brine solution is made up of salt and water. You have the option of using table salt or kosher salt. You can also make a brine recipe with other ingredients to add flavor to the food, like sugar, garlic, or soy sauce.

Brining Meat

Brining causes several different reactions to occur. When it's not soaked in brine, cooking dries meat out and causes it to lose moisture. Also, the proteins in the muscle tissues get more firm. As a result, by the time your brisket or pork shoulder reaches your dish, it could be unpleasantly dry, tough, and chewy. If you pretreat meat in a brine solution, the salt allows it to retain more liquid, and the meat stays moist. Salt also enhances the flavor of the meat.

A highly concentrated saltwater brining solution breaks down muscle fibers, which tenderizes meat. The liquid also works its way into spaces between tissue proteins to break down some of the tough muscle mass. After a few hours in brine, you're left with a serving of meat that you can cut with a butter knife.

Meat and Poultry Brine Recipe

Here are the ingredients you'll need for a basic brine recipe: cold water and salt (it's OK to use either kosher salt or table salt). Adding additional seasonings will enhance the flavor of your food. Try ingredients like sugar, peppercorns, rosemary, thyme, sage, bay leaves, or allspice berries.

Mix water, salt, and white or brown sugar (optional) in a large bowl until all solids dissolve. For a whole bird or a large pot roast, use a cup of salt per gallon of water (or other liquid). Pour the brine into a resealable plastic bag, and then put the meat inside, squeeze out as much air as you can, and seal. Place the bag in the refrigerator.

Here is a basic timetable for brining different kinds of meat, including pork chops, pork tenderloin, a whole chicken, chicken breasts, and an entire Thanksgiving turkey. Allow the meat to sit in the brine solution in the refrigerator for at least one hour for every pound.

  • Cornish hen 1 to 2 hours
  • Chicken breast - 4 to 6 hours
  • Pork chops - 4 to 6 hours for a 1-inch-thick cut
  • Whole chicken - 4 to 5 hours
  • Turkey breast - 8 to 12 hours
  • Pork tenderloin - 12 hours
  • Whole Thanksgiving turkey - 12 to 24 hours
  • Brine Recipe Substitutions

For a liquid brine, there are many different substitutions for water. The biggest benefit of using tap or bottled water in your recipe is that it's free. On the other hand, buying a gallon of beer or about five bottles of wine for a homemade brine recipe can be expensive. But there are lots of other ingredients you can use for your meat, chicken, or turkey brine recipe that aren't expensive at all. Here are some suggestions from other home chefs.

  • Vinegar
  • Apple juice or apple cider
  • Rum
  • Bourbon
  • Red wine
  • Soy sauce
  • Steak sauce (e.g., Worcestershire and A1 Sauce)
  • Stout beer (e.g., Guinness)
  • Brown or chicken stock
  • Brine and Grill Vegetables

Brining softens vegetables. So if you're having a barbecue, you may want to soak carrots, radishes, beets, and cabbage ahead of time so they don't have to sit on the grill for so long.

In a large pot or saucepan, bring a few cups of water to a boil with bay leaves, peppercorns, vinegar, sugar, fresh ground pepper, and a couple of teaspoons of salt. Add the vegetables in the solution and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. After removing from vegetables from the brine, thoroughly pat dry each one, then toss and coat with oil and lightly season with table salt. Place on the grill and turn every few minutes. After about 8 to 10 minutes, remove from heat and serve.

Why You Brine Fish

It's understandable why fish tastes better when it's brined. Seawater is a type of nature's brine. Making your own fish brine using different seasonings helps improve the flavor of the meat and prevents the fish from drying out while it's cooking. Brining also prevents albumin from collecting on the outside of the fish. Albumin is a thick white, gel-like substance made in the muscle fibers.

When cooking 1-inch thick fillets of tuna, salmon, halibut, or swordfish, use about five tablespoons of salt to 2 quarts of water. The ideal soaking time is roughly 15 minutes. After removing the fish from the brine bath, be sure to pat dry completely before putting in a hot pan.

Pepper and Garlic Fish Brine

Combine water, kosher salt, and sugar in a bowl. After the solids dissolve, add in white wine vinegar, olive oil, sliced onion, crushed garlic, and cracked black pepper. Put fish in the brine and pour the solution into a sealable plastic bag. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Brining Cheese

Cheese can go bad pretty quickly, especially if it doesn't come packaged in brine. So rather than throw away perfectly good feta or mozzarella, you can make a brining solution at home.

Simply dissolve a cup of table salt into 4 cups of cold water. Use more salt and more water if there's not enough to cover the entire block or crumbles of cheese. Keep the cheese and brine in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Now instead of going bad in a week, it'll last for about a month.

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