Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Brining and Dining

Above: Brined and roasted pork loin with fennel.

Brining is one of my most favoritest foodie techniques. It is super-easy, impresses people, and makes cheap supermarket meat taste like grass-fed-free-range-Niman-Ranch-whatever. It only takes a few minutes to put the brine together, cool it, and throw the brining meat into the fridge, but you can let the flavors develop anywhere from overnight to a week.

The fundamental of brine is not even a recipe, just a ratio: You want 8 cups of water to each half cup of salt. (For a Thanksgiving turkey, you'd want about 32 cups of water.) To this, add something sweet (honey, molasses, or maple syrup), probably about as much as the salt. Heat the water in a pot on the stove until the salt and sweetener dissolve. Then add a bunch of stuff. Here are some suggestions regarding said stuff; I tend to use some or all of the following, depending on what I have in the house:
  • Garlic cloves
  • Peppercorns
  • Dried chili peppers (add while the water is hot so they will reconstitute, or un-dehydrate)
  • Chili pepper flakes
  • Thyme sprigs
  • Bay leaves
  • Cumin seeds
  • Mustard seeds
  • Cilantro sprigs

Let the brine cool, throw some meat into a gallon-size or larger Ziploc bag (it’s a good idea to sit the bag in a bowl in case of leakage), and pour in the brine. Meats I like to use include pork loin, pork chops, and turkey breasts—or, as mentioned above, an entire turkey, which tends to require a vessel on the order of a lobster pot rather than a Ziploc. Refrigerate. And wait.

As I said above, you can let the brining meat refrigerate overnight or even a week, what with salt being a preservative and all. (If you do this and get sick, please don't bother suing me, I don’t own so much as a lobster pot to brine in.)When you're ready, you can roast your tenderloin/breast, grill your chops, or prepare the meat however you normally would. Just be aware that brining makes it cook somewhat faster. No, I don't know why. What do I look like, Alton Brown to you?

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