Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why Brine?

Photo from Average Jane's Photostream

It is past Christmas and a brine for a Goose this year, but maybe you have a duck or turkey planned for New Year's Day? You could still brine it! I've been brining my annual Thanksgiving turkey for 3-4 years now, and throughout the year I brine whole chickens and even Cornish game hens. I haven't brined any pork or beef roasts yet, but now it's on my List.

If you had asked me before now why I brine, my answer would have been "to make it juicier", but with no real scientific knowledge behind my observations.

Now, thanks to Harold McGee's book On Food and Cooking, I know that the salt disrupts the structure of the muscle filaments... that is, salt uncoils/unbinds the proteins to form looser bonds. How that actually works is that a 3% salt solution dissolves part of the protein structure that supports the contracting filaments in muscle tissue... and a 5.5% salt solution actually dissolves the filaments themselves. By such actions, the meat actually becomes more tender!

Secondly, the interaction of salt with the proteins result in a greater water-holding capacity in the muscle cell structure, thus the meat loses less moisture when cooked... in other words, the meat is juicier. This is especially important if you are smoking meat a long time over slow heat.

Another benefit of brining is the infusion of added flavors. The moisture in both meat and brine travels back and forth between them until it reaches equilibrium, and any flavorings (herbs, spices, lemons, oranges, and even the salt) you have added to the solution end up in the meat... IN the meat, not just in the outer surface of the meat. Because of that transfer of flavorings, it is important to brine with the correct balance of salt to water, and to brine for the amount of time recommended for the weight of your bird or whatever you are brining. Otherwise, you could end up with a salty bird.

See some brine recipes and tips here.

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