Thursday, June 14, 2007

Brining for Poultry and Meat

If there is a help group for people addicted to cookbooks, sign me up tout de suite!

Shortly after L and I graduated college and moved to Boston, I discovered that our town library has an entire aisle devoted just to cookbooks. This is my idea of heaven! One evening at the library, I came across a copy of The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock at the library. I borrowed it, began reading, and quickly fell in love. I believe that someone once called Edna Lewis "the Julia Child of southern cuisine." How right they were!

One of the first things I came across was a small section called "brining for poultry and meat." I was intrigued, as the only brine I'd even heard of was the juice from the pickle jar that my sister loved to drink when we were kids. At the time I thought it was disgusting, but out of fairness I must note that now, being a little older and much wiser, I've discovered the deliciousness that is sipping the remains of rice vinegar/shoyu potsticker dipping sauce. I'm starting to see her point.

Brining is an ancient process. Preservation brining, which involves copious amounts of salt, dries the meat out, thus preventing unwanted microorganisms from forming in the meat's natural moisture. Flavour brining, on the other hand, flavours the meat, changes its texture, and helps it retain moisture that would otherwise be lost during the cooking process.

The first time we tried it, we brined and then fried chicken legs. Not only did the brine make the meat moist and juicy, but it gave the chicken a wonderful savoury flavour that you just can't get from sauce alone. I was hooked, and these days I make an effort to brine meat whenever I can. If you're doing a whole chicken (which will be fabulously good) it can be hard to find space in your refrigerator for the large container you'll have to use. Trust me- you want to move things around and find a way. It's worth the effort.

These proportions are directly from The Gift of Southern Cooking; I've tweaked the instructions to reflect my own experiences.

Brining for Poultry and Meat

To make the brine, stir kosher salt (do not, under any circumstances, use table salt here) into cold water until dissolved, in the proportion of 1/4 cup salt to 1 quart of water. Mix enough brine to cover the poultry or meat completely in a nonreactive* bowl or pot; if the meat insists on floating to the top, you can cover it with a heavy plate or two to keep it completely submerged. Williams-Sonoma and other cooking stores sell brining bags that can help with this problem; I've never tried one, but I've heard good things. Store refrigerated for the times specified below. Do not brine for longer than the recommended time or your meat will become too salty.

Cut-up chicken: brine for 8-12 hours
Whole chicken for roasting: brine for 8-24 hours
Whole turkey for roasting: brine for 24-48 hours
Pork chops: brine for 2 hours
Pork loin: brine for 8-24 hours
Pork shoulder: brine for 24 hours

*nonreactive = enamel or stainless steel; not aluminum or cast-iron

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