Have you ever cooked a piece of meant to then eat it and find that it is as tough as nails and chewy as rubber? Or find that a nice, juicy looking turkey or chicken is only bone dry under the skin? While it very well could have been the cut of meat you chose or cooking technique, you might be able to transform even the toughest piece with some preventative measures before cooking.
If you‘ve ever had a moist, juicy turkey on Thanksgiving, chances are that is was brined before cooking. Brining is a process that involves soaking the meat anywhere from 2 to 24 hours in a salted/seasoned bath. While the meat is in the brine, the meat cells soak up whatever flavors are in the solution and because the meat is now loaded with extra moisture, it will retain more as it is cooked. While traditional brine always contains heavy amounts of salt in the water, it can also contain sugar, spices, vegetables and additional liquids. The choices are limited only by your imagination. Begin with a basic mix of ½ cup of kosher or table salt and ½ cup of sugar to 1 gallon of water and add from there. If using other liquids such as vinegar or citruses, remember that this adds acidity to the mixture and brining time should be cut down accordingly.
Brining could be used and would be recommended for any type of meat. The amount of time to brine, however, depends on the type of meat you are brining. Seafood takes a lot less time than a whole turkey would. Below is a short list to give you an idea of how long to brine: (times depend upon weight)
- Shrimp 30 minutes
- Chicken breasts 1 to 2 hours
- Whole chickens 5 to 12 hours
- Whole turkeys 12 to 24 hours
- Pork tenderloin 6 to 12 hours
- Cornish hens 1 to 2 hours
After your meat is finished brining, it is usually recommended to give it a good rinse. Whether the recipe calls for you to rinse or not, though, it is important that once you are ready to cook or store it in the fridge until cooking, make sure the meat is patted dry with paper towels. Do not salt the meat again before cooking; moreover, if the meat is kosher, it has already been salted, so cut the amount of salt in your brine. You will find the process of brining will yield a better, juicier, more tasteful piece of meat for you to enjoy – no more dry, chewy dinner!