Tuesday, December 2, 2008

To Brine, or not to Brine

I get asked this question a lot and myself have been on a 'Wild' cooking quest the past few days with my Zesty Smoked Trout...the rabbit waiting with my other forestall meat goodies in the freezer...thanks to Farmer Brown down the road! This is recommended for cooking pieces of meat that could be left tough or dry outside of a stew recipe, and deserve to be served up in other creative ways. But you should brine first...I call it 'Flavor Blasting'...let's just start off with what this really means...

Face it every time you open the oven to bast that turkey and ham you are letting out all of the energy your hard earned money pays for, and there is a better way to get moisture deep down into the muscle tissue. Therefore producing a juicier dish, and all just by soaking it in salt water. If you are going to a lot of trouble to cook game meats such as venison, elk, turkey, other wild game birds and rabbit that have strong gamey taste; then you might want to insure their tenderness and added flavor. Some say do not bother with red meats, but I can see the benefits of a tough shoulder roast going for a swim now and then. Pork and fish are definitely on my list if you are planning to smoke it!

Warning! Do not do this if you have bought a chicken, turkey, or any meat that has already been enhanced with saline- read labels.

Here's the concept. If the meat is submerged in a water, a physical and chemical process called osmosis will cause the meat to absorb the liquid. Osmosis is the tendency of two liquids, the one in the meat and the one outside the meat, to equalize the concentration of the stuff dissolved in it. In effect, osmosis causes the water from the outside to enter the meat and dilute the fluids in an attempt to equalize. At the same time, some of the fluids inside flow out. The end result is that osmotic pressure swells the meat with moisture.

By adding salt to the water you can create more osmotic pressure because of salts unique chemical properties, and because salt is a flavor enhancer; therefore you can add flavor to the brine. In addition, salt also changes the way the meat proteins are arranged. They unwind and form a matrix that traps the moisture so less is lost during cooking. This process is called denaturing.

Cuts of meat that are intended for brining usually call for slow cooking at medium to low temperature for extended times to also help break down muscle tissue; thus creating a more tender dish. Not only does adding seasonings like garlic to brine help add flavor but adding stocks, herbs and things like pineapple to the water will give the meat an added your own twist or sweetness.

Salt can enhance flavors, but too much can make it unpleasant. So below I am adding measurements for the brine:

Salt/Water/Stock Ratio-

Use Kosher or Sea Salt- at a 6 % ratio (1 cup to 1 gallon is what you aim for)
With fish I also add a squeeze of lime or lemon juice...be careful you will end up cooking the fish in the acids of the fruit if left over one hour time.
The process does not tenderize. It only adds moisture, improves moisture retention, and it can enhance flavors.

How long do I brine?This depends on what and how much you have...Fish- 1 hour, thawed...Turkey/Wild Game Bird like Quail- 48 hours, thawed...Rabbit/Venison- 48 hours, thawed...Pork- 48 hours, thawed.

What type of container should I use for brining? Well the options are...ceramic, glass, stainless steel, anodized aluminum (not regular aluminum), or gallon sized ziploc plastic bags can be used for small portions and overnight. I use the large pots for large cuts and over night; otherwise the aluminum ones for baking work for brining fish for an hour. I do not recommend plastic; unless it is a large cooler or restaurant grade containers that are FDA approved for overnight food storage, because unless you save labels then you will not know what chemicals are leaching into the brine...that is soaking your future creation!

DISCLAIMER: These are based on my own cooking and family experiences and culinary school teachings of the past. Not everyone will agree, nor do I wish to say I am better than what is out there...I say just keep trying till it works for you!