Advantages of Brining
I've seen a few recipes lately that call for brining poultry or meats. What exactly is brining and what are its advantages? —M.K., Brookfield, Wisconsin
Brining means to soak meat in a solution of water and salt. A brine can be flavored with sugars, juices or seasonings. Kosher salt, table salt or even sea salt can be used in the brining solution. Brining is a way to help tenderize lean meats such as poultry—or fish or seafood—because lean meats can easily dry out when cooked.
Soaking the meats in a brining solution helps ensure moist, juicy cooked meat. It's best to use natural meats—those that have not been injected with a salt solution—for brining. Check the label on the package…or ask your butcher for clarification if you're not sure which meats are natural at your grocery store. The salt-water solution increases the juiciness of the meat by loosening the protein structure. This in turn allows extra water and flavors to be trapped by the protein during the brining process…and the moisture and flavor are retained during the cooking process, making the meat delightfully juicy and tender. Here are some guidelines for brining times: whole turkey, up to 24 hours; large whole chicken, 3-4 hours; pork chops, 4 hours; shrimp, 30 minutes; and thin fish, 10 minutes.