It’s just saltwater. So, as the lovely Russell Brand says in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, “There’s really no need to weep.”
Brining’s not hard. Don’t freak out.
Okay, but what do you put in? And how much? And what else do you add? And for how long and do you rinse it and how much sodium is added and what should you brine and what would be dumb to brine? Yeah, it’s true that even though it’s essentially just salt and water, it can be a little overwhelming.
The simple fact to remember, though, is this: lean meats dry out quickly and lack flavor. Brining adds flavor (in the form of salt) and prevents meat from drying out by increasing moisture and thereby making the food more tender even when slightly overcooked.
So having brining in your culinary bag of tricks is a good idea if you’re trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Or if you just like your meat to be tender and more flavorful. It’s not just for turkey, once a year.
My favorite meats to brine are: chicken breasts and thighs, whole ducks, pork tenderloins and whole loins, turkey breasts and shrimp. Generally it would be dumb, or at least a waste, to brine steak, or anything that’s already fatty and tender.
The bigger the piece of meat, the longer you should brine it. So a turkey should stay in the brine awhile. Next week, mine will be in the brine for 24 hours.
If it were frozen, I would let it thaw in the brine for a couple of days. It doesn’t absorb a ton more sodium after the first day, and the outside of the bird is the part more likely to dry out prematurely anyway.
As for the salt, only about 1% of the sodium from the solution is absorbed into the meat, which is definitely enough to season it, but not so much that you should lose sleep over excess sodium content in your food.
You can absolutely rinse off the meat after brining, and definitely don’t add more salt. And think about the sodium content of anything you’re serving with your brined foods, especially any sauce that will top the meat.
The following recipe works well for a whole duck or chicken, 3-6 pounds of pork loin or tenderloin, or 8 chicken breasts or thighs. A small turkey, for example, would require at least a double recipe.
- 2 Q water
- ½ C of kosher salt
- Lots of ice
In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add salt and stir until dissolved.
Pour into a large measuring container. Add ice to reach 4-quart (1 gallon) line. If you don’t have a large measuring container or a huge supply of ice, add 2 quarts ice water or very cold water to your storage container.
Add protein, cover and refrigerate. Today, I’m thawing and brining a whole duck at the same time. Despite its sexy rep, duck is relatively affordable (you can get a whole one for under twenty bucks at plenty of stores around here). It’s delicious. Plus I like the fat (confit and potatoes roasted in duck fat, anyone?) and the bones are great for poultry stock.
You can add all sorts of stuff to a brine. Plain sugar shows up more than any other secondary ingredient in recipes for this basic saltwater solution, but truly flavorful ingredients are welcome as well. My Thanksgiving turkey brine will include Bourbon, maple syrup, apple cider, orange juice, orange peels, whole peppercorns and whole star anise. I considered using tea bags and decided against it. The theme of this year’s gathering is SxMW (south by Midwest) so it seemed cool, but Bourbon won out in the end, as it does.
So think about brining things besides turkey, at times besides Thanksgiving. Tender, succulent, flavorful lean meat. It’s really wonderful. Give thanks.