Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Brining

Another cooking confessional: I have never brined my meat or poultry. I have always felt that it was a messy, unnecessary step in the process. Until yesterday.

I had a catering project that was overflow from another cook who couldn’t handle the quantity requested at the last minute. We communicated briefly about recipes and plating so that it would not be blatently obvious when the guests opened their lunches and discovered that they were the same but extremely different. One of the dishes being served was a sliced chicken breast, which she said she was brining for two hours and baking with a garlic and paprika rub. Simple enough.

I got up and brined the chicken breasts in the morning before cooking them. I was skeptical. I honesty didn’t think it would make a bit of difference. I was wrong. The chicken was extremely tender and juicy. I had a couple of extra pieces that I removed from the brine and refrigerated until dinner time. My husband remarked that I should buy my chicken from this butcher all the time, as it seemed superior in taste and consistency. I am a brine believer now! 

So what is brining and how is it done? Read along…

Brining is the process of soaking meat or poultry in salt water for a period of time to lock in moisture before cooking. The salt in the water serves to denature, or break down some of the protein bonds in the meat, and allows the water to become trapped between the fibers, making it more hydrated before it is cooked. Depending on the size and amount of time spent in the brine, the food will weigh 6-8% more, due it the amount of liquid it has absorbed.

While a large turkey might benefit from an overnight brine, smaller portions will become water logged if left to soak too long.  A couple of hours for a large amount of skinless, boneless chicken breasts ( I was serving 30 people) was perfect. Even 30 minutes would make a difference. If you place the breasts in the brine while the oven heats and you get the rest of the meal prepared, it will be well worth the extra effort, and not take too much extra time.

How to Brine:
Use 1/4 cup of kosher salt for every quart of warm water. Place the food into the mixture so that it is just submerged but not swimming in the brine, cover it and place it in the refrigerator. You can add herbs, lemon juice or other flavors to the mixture if you like, but for a short brine, it won’t have that much effect. When you are ready to cook the meat, remove it from it’s bath, pat it dry with paper towels and you’re good to go!

Word of warning: Raw meats and poultry have potentially harmful bacteria that can make you and those who eat your food very sick. Be sure to wash the brining dish and disinfect anything that the brining water came in contact with. I put my dish on a baking tray to catch any drips to avoid contaminating other things in the refrigerator.

Happy Brining!

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