Brining – Boosting Flavor and Juiciness
Next week’s Tuesday Tasty Tip is on how to cook a chicken (or tenderloin) on a grill using a rotisserie. I think chicken is best when cooked on a grill, and more so if cooked on a rotisserie. However, before we deal with that, we need to take out an insurance policy to make sure the bird (or other meats) cooked on a spit will not only be flavorful, but juicy and tender as well. To improve our odds of producing a perfectly cooked chicken, pork loin or any other meat, brine the meat. Soaking the meat in a brine solution — a solution of salt, sugar and a liquid — provides it with a plump cushion of seasoned moisture that will uphold the meat throughout cooking. This extra step is well worth the time.
Brining works on two principles, you may have learned back in school labs-osmosis and diffusion. Osmosis is the movement of water across a partially permeable membrane (skin/tissue) from an area of high water potential (the brine solution) to an area of low water potential (cells in the muscle). Simply stated, the muscle tissue in chicken, for example, has less water in it than the brine does because of the protein it contains. Because of the difference, water will naturally be absorbed into the muscle because there is less water in the meat. The diffusion of salts and sugar also work in a similar manner because the brine has a greater concentration of salt and sugar than does the bird. Therefore, salt, sugar as well as other seasoning agents will eventually find their way into the meat.
Salt is the key element in brining because the salt causes the proteins in the meat to denature, or unravel. As the proteins unravel, they tend to hold more moisture. Once the surface of the meat sees heat during the cooking process, the proteins at the surface tighten or bond to each other forming a barrier that retains moisture in the meat throughout the cooking process. The meat can contain more moisture than when you started, if not overcooked.
I use only kosher salt for my brines because I like the taste of it better than iodized salt. Moreover, I do not want the iodine and anti-caking agents used in table salt in my food. Diamond Crystal and Morton are the common brands. Morton’s is about 25% to 30% more dense than Diamond Crystal. 1.5 cups Morton’s is equal to 2 cups of Diamond Crystal. The brine solution below is based on Morton’s salt, as it is readily available in my area.
Chef David’s Brine Solution:
1 cup coarse kosher salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 cup boiling water
1 gallon (total volume) cold water consisting of ice chunks to maintain safe food temperature (between 32 and 40 degrees F)
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon tarragon 1 teaspoon thyme 1 teaspoon rosemary
Dissolve the salt and sugar in the boiling water. Turn off the heat. Add the seasonings and steep as you would a tea for about 5 minutes. Pour into the cold water. Add the meat to the solution and store in a non-reactive waterproof container for the appropriate time as listed below. Use one quart per pound of food, not exceeding 2 gallons of brine.
Note: For high temperature roasting/grilling, reduce the amount of sugar to ¼ cup and the amount of salt to ½ cup.
Whole Chicken 3-8 hrs
Whole Pork Loin 1-3 days
Whole Turkey 12 hrs-2 days
Cornish Game Hens 1-2 hrs
Pork Tenderloin 2-8 hrs
Turkey Breast 4-8 hrs
Chicken Pieces 1-2 hrs
Pork Chops 2-6 hrs
When cooking a turkey or something that requires a relatively large volume, I use a 5-gallon water cooler, which you can purchase at any home improvement store. I make sure my brine has a few large chunks of block ice in order to maintain a safe storage temperature. I store the cooler inside the house in order to keep the bird at a safe storage temperature (here in Arizona).
Prior to cooking, make sure you dry the skin. Allowing meat to air-dry in a refrigerator uncovered for 24 hours will allow the skin on a chicken, or the exterior of meat, come out nice and crunchy.
Next week, we will move to the actual roasting of our brined meat on a grill using a rotisserie.
Chef David Hall