Friday, November 23, 2007


so this is perhaps a bit late, given that yesterday was turkey-day, but i wanted to try it out before sharing it. this year we brined our turkey--which means, essentially, that we submerged it in a sugar, salt, and water solution for several hours before cooking it. i could spell out all the details of how it works, but they're kind of boring. so i'll just say that the idea is that brining the turkey makes it both more moist and tender and more flavorful. and having done this to my family's turkey yesterday, i can attest that we had the most delicious turkey ever, complete with moist, tender white meat (which almost never happens). so here's the details:

the best candidates for brining:
CORNISH HEN: whole, butterflied
CHICKEN: whole, parts, butterflied
TURKEY: whole, breast, parts, butterflied
PORK: loin, tenderloin, chops, fresh ham
SEAFOOD: whole side of salmon (when grill-roasting or smoking), shrimp

how to brine:
1. Mix cold water, salt, and sugar in brining vessel and stir to dissolve salt and sugar.
2. Immerse food in brine, seal, and refrigerate. (If not refrigerating, add ice packs before covering.) When brining a turkey or whole bird, make sure the air bubble in the chest cavity comes out.

formula for basic brine:
1 quart cold water
1/2 cup Diamond Crystal kosher
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons Morton kosher salt
1/4 cup table salt
1/2 cup sugar

use 1 quart of brine per 1 pound of food, not to exceed 2 gallons brine**

brine for 1 hour per pound, but not less than 30 minutes or more than 8 hours

formula for brine for high-heat roasting, broiling, or high-heat grilling:
1 quart cold water
1/4 cup Diamond Crystal kosher
3 tablespoons Morton kosher
OR 2 tablespoons table salt
2 tablespoons sugar

use 1 quart of brine per 1 pound of food, not to exceed 2 gallons brine**

brine for 1 hour per pound, but not less than 30 minutes or more than 8 hours

**when brining multiple items, time based on weight of single item (for example, use weight of 1 of 4 pork chops being brined)

***when brining a turkey or fresh ham, rinse it well to remove excess sugar (extra sugar can make the outside of the meat burn)

what you'll need:
in addition to the ingredients (water, salt, sugar), you'll need a few other things, including:

some kind of brining vessel. for small pieces of meat, you can use ziploc bags, usually one- or two-gallon size. for larger pieces of meat (whole turkey, whole chicken, etc.), use some kind of tub or cooler. you need to make sure the meat is completely submerged in the brine, which means either expelling all the air from the bag or weighting the meat in a tub/cooler so it's submerged. you can also put a large piece of meat inside a trash bag and tie it off so there's no water left.

a method for keeping your meat cold. when you're working with a big piece of meat, especially for a holiday meal, it's not always possible to store a big tub of brine + meat in the fridge. you can put your brining bird (pig, fish, etc.) in a cooler full of ice packs so it stays down around 40 degrees. we used a trash bag for the turkey and brine and surrounded it in a cooler with ice, which worked great. make sure you don't let ice melt and dilute the brine if you take the cooler option.

after it's brined:
you can put your meat right in to cook after brining. however, if you like crisp poultry skin, you probably won't get it if you cook right away. instead you should brine ahead of time so you can let the bird air dry for at least several hours (best if you can let it air dry overnight) before cooking it. to let the bird dry, remove it from the brine and rinse well (to remove excess sugar). pat it dry with paper towels. place on a rack inside a rimmed baking sheet or jelly roll pan. refrigerate. the rack allows air to circulate around the bird.

so there it is. how to brine your bird (or pig or fish). it's not effective for red meat or fattier birds (duck, for instance) because those meats have sufficient fat to compensate for the drying that happens during cooking. i can't tell you how much it improved the turkey yesterday. my brother-in-law was carving the turkey and i was stealing snippets of white meat, amazed at how tender and juicy it was. try it for christmas!

1 comment:

Lallie said...

I've just recently heard about Brining - it was all the craze at a ward "Culinary Institute." Jeni's turkey was delicious yesterday, she said she thought it seemed dry... but it was perfectly moist to me!