Brines Make Me Giggle Because I Always Think, “Pirates!”

There are three things in this world pretty much guaranteed to make me laugh out loud.

The first one is my tendency to zpeeek to myzelf in zeee reee-DICOOLOS ac-ZENTS.   It eez FRAAAUNCH when I am een zee keechen, or perhaps Russian when chess on the internet I play, or inna Italian when I drive.

The second, in a vaguely related vein, is Roberto Benigni, and specifically, his performance in the Jim Jarmusch movie “Night On Earth.”  His screen presence manages to exude a child-like innocence while at the same moment being crude, unhinged, sacreligious, sexually depraved, and just hyper.  All acted with virtuoso timing, utterly free of self-awareness or filter.  The man is a comic genius. 

Number three is pirates.

Not the jokes so much.  Okay, except the one about the movie.  You know, the one that’s rated arrrR?  But mostly they are trite and sort of forced.  

But come on, leaping about and singing their catchy little songs in their Puffy Shirts?  How can that NOT be funny?

And I have to admit that when I hear contemporary stories about the coast of Somalia about big oil tankers being attacked by pirates, I do, ever briefly, giggle.

And, yes, for that very same reason, I snicker when I brine stuff. 

A brine, in the off chance you are not a foodie, (or a long-suffering friend of mine who endures my incessant yammering on about this kind of thing) is essentially a salty solution one soaks hunks of meat in, in order to improve the target meat’s flavor and/or texture.

Permit me to suggest a couple of reads:  The most scientifically detailed and exhaustive discussion of brining is contained in Harold Mcgee’s “On Food and Cooking.”  The most straightforward explanation, as well as the easiest to understand and apply to your own cooking, however, occurs in Russ Parsons’ “How To Read a French Fry.” 

Basically, a good soak in a brine will allow a piece of meat to retain both more salt and more moisture and more flavor. And because this is accomplished by swelling the meat fibers just a bit, it is much easier to introduce more flavor to more of the meat.

The added advantage here is that brines function as an insurance against your food drying out.

So count on using 3/4ths of a cup of salt per gallon of water.  The water should taste salty, but should not overpower you.

Let me offer one other bit of advice about brining. Don’t be so eager to flash-chill the liquid, unless you are doing a straight saltwater brine.  Remember that if you add stuff, herbs, whole spices, garlic, whatever, that you are constructing a solvent.  Water extracts flavors best when very warm.  If you bring your saltwater to a boil, add your flavorings, and then douse the mixture in cold water or dump in a bunch of ice, you severely retard the flavor extraction and you’ve essentially wasted herbs and garlic. 

So I’m sorry to be a pain in the butt, people, but always make your brines the night before and allow them to cool slowly before inserting the meat.  Resist the temptation to use half the water to cook the salt and then dump in some icewater, or ice.  Even though you see it on TV. 

Mkay.  two slightly different brines.  One for pork, one for chicken.

I do pork chops 4 or five times a year.  Whenever I do, I buy the thickest ones I can find, usually at Kroeger and Sons at Findlay Market and soak them in THIS.

Jeff’s Brine for Pork (loosely extracted from several different cookbooks with stuff added that I like and that I think happens to go well with pork chops)  You will note my typical precision.  Ha.

(this brine is for two pork chops, for more, double the water and salt, and be a bit more generous with the add-ins)

8 cups water
1/3 cup (generous) kosher salt
a few juniper berries
a few whole cloves
a cinnamon stick
a couple of bay leaves
a few peppercorns. 
a big pinch of fennel

Bring the water to a boil.  Add everything.  Cool Overnight.

Next day, add the pork chops, cover and allow chops to soak for about 6 hours.

 

 

This next brine is for chicken.  Store-bought chicken does not need to be brined for moisture or tenderness.  It does, however, need flavor.  Many times I’ll just use a dry rub, but often those rubs are somewhat…committal.  Either Asian flavors or bbq flavors, which are good, but sometimes limit the appropriateness of the leftovers.

You will note a slight difference here in that this brine contains a bit of acid in the form of lemon juice.  A general rule is that if your brine is acidic, lower the soak time to prevent the meat from becoming mealy.

Chicken Brine Ala Bouchon  (good for one chicken, cut into four pieces, not including wings)
8 cups water
1/2 cups salt
3 Tablespoons Honey
5 or 6 bay leaves
1 T black peppercorns
Some Rosemary
Some Thyme
Some Parsley
zest and juice of one lemon.

Combine, boil until the salt completely dissolves.  Allow to cool before using.

Soak chicken for 3 hours.  TK says 6, but his recipe seems to use whole chickens.

 

Oh, the cooking.

I cook chicken and pork in quite the same way.  The doneness will vary slightly, but the method for both is the same. It is very reliable, and, with the brine, surprisingly forgiving.

Permit me to beat this dead horse if you are a regular reader:  Meat should always be at room temperature when you cook it.  It sears better, cooks quicker, and won’t dry out as easily. 

Anyway, sear the meat in a cast-iron skillet, finish in a 375 degree oven.  The chicken is done at 160, the pork at 150. I know that there is at least one microbiologist reading this blog whom I have just horrified, but whatever. Allow the meat to rest a few minutes before devouring.

 

 

 Yaaaaar.

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Brines Make Me Giggle Because I Always Think, “Pirates!”

  1. no, no – i loved it. and p.s., great use of the elusive juniper berry. a family friend ordered a huge canister online because she had a difficult time finding them (i assume she did not try jungle jim’s) and now needs recipes. i will pass yours along!