Brining is not a new concept. Curing meat is recorded throughout history, dating back thousands of years, and as long as there have been curing techniques, brining has been alongside. It was originally used to preserve meat for later consumption. But what is wet brining and how does it fit into today's world? Together with the benefit of preservation came a few other bonuses. Adding flavor was a big perk since a good wet brine recipe soaks salt deeply into the meat.
Now that refrigeration is so accessible, wet brining isn’t used for preservation as often. Instead, it is a culinary tool to improve the meat people are planning to cook. It is a simple process, with high-end results. One of the most important necessities with brining is patience. It is a slow process, requiring plenty of wait time. But be assured, the end result is worth planning ahead for.
What Is Wet Brining?
Wet brining is basically the process of soaking your meat in a salt water bath. Using a salt water brine ratio that both extracts moisture from the piece of meat and helps the meat absorb other moisture, the bath helps to deeply season the meat. So what is wet brining? It’s a culinary art to help season and perfect your meat.
What Does Brining Meat Do?
Brining meat does several things. By placing the meat in water that has a high solution of salt (higher than the air at least) the meat’s juice and water are drawn out. At the same time, the meat continues to absorb other water, basically swapping the moisture inside. By swapping the water, the seasonings in the brine (salt and whatever else you’d like) soak through the meat and season it to the core.
What is Gained By Brining Meat?
Meat that has been brined gains a few characteristics. The first thing you will notice is immediately after brining meat, the piece of meat will have gained a bit of water weight. That is great because that can help keep the meat from drying out when it’s cooked. If the meat even lost as much weight as usual when getting cooked, it would be left with the extra moisture it started with.
Can You Over Salt When Brining?
While you don’t want to over-salt the water, a good salt water brine ratio has an awesome effect on the meat. The salt water acts as a loosening agent to the muscles within the brined meat. Think of it as a relaxer for all the muscles. When the muscles are loosened they don’t tighten up as much during the cooking process. This is yet another way the brine helps keep meat moist. Since it isn’t tightening up so much, the moisture isn’t squeezed out of the meat, keeping it super juicy. Beyond keeping the meat juicy, the relaxed muscles also have a nice texture. Loosened muscles tend to be less chewy and rubbery… nice!
Because of the soaking process, the seasoning you put into your brine absorbs all throughout the piece of meat. It is a much better season compared to a basic surface seasoning. You can be sure it will be seasoned evenly as well since there aren’t any nooks or crannies that water won’t find. Brining is great because it works with slow cooked meats or meats for stews as well. There isn’t much point to surface seasoning a chicken breast that is going into a slow cooker since it will be washed right off. By brining the breast first it gets the seasoning throughout the meat, and won’t be rinsed away so easily.
Wet Brine Recipe
Wet brining recipes are great because they are so versatile. The basic brining recipe is based on using about 1 cup of salt for every gallon of water necessary to completely submerge your meat. To be completely sure that the salt is dissolved into the water, I suggest heating it to a simmer, stirring until the salt is totally dissolved, then letting it cool again. Don’t set your meat into the water before it is at least as cool as room temperature. You don’t want the water to start cooking your meat.
Be Creative With Your Brining Solution
The reason wet brine recipes are so versatile is because any seasoning you add into the brine alongside the salt will be absorbed into the meat you are soaking. It is a great way to be creative with your cooking. Make sure to keep the salt as the main seasoning though. It is the only essential ingredient (besides water) in the process.
If you are going to brine a small amount of meat, say a few chicken breasts, it is possible to do it in a Ziplock bag. I still recommend placing the bag in a crockpot or other large pot to make sure any leaked water is contained.
Once you have the water seasoned and cooled, you can place your meat in. The amount of time you should leave the meat to soak will depend on the weight of the meat. An accepted idea is to leave the meat in for about one hour for every pound of meat. I tend to lean a little longer than that, pushing closer to 1.5 hours for every pound. It is possible to soak your meat too long, so don’t push it too far, lest the meat turns mushy and unappetizing.
A word to the wise, I always brine my food in the fridge. It isn’t worth the risk of bacteria growing in my food to leave it out on the counter. I know it can be a pain to fit something so large in the refrigerator, but it is well worth the annoyance to avoid excess bacteria. Yuck!
Remove The Excess Surface Moisture For Better Browning
When your meat is done soaking, pull it out and pat it dry with a dish towel. Paper towels will work too. If you have time, let the meat sit on a plate in the refrigerator for an hour or so to let it air dry further. The wet surface can slow the meat from browning, so drying it will add even better texture in the long run.
The brining process can easily take a full day, but luckily most of it is very hands off. If you don’t have much time, pat drying the meat instead of letting it air dry should be the first time you trim off. Try not to shorten the time in the brine too much. It takes quite a while to soak all the way through a piece of meat, especially larger pieces. It is well worth the patience as well. Starting the day before is a wonderful way to ensure you are getting the best amount of time possible in the brine.
To finish off, here is a quick recap.
What is wet brining? An awesome technique to make your meat juicier, tastier, and give it a great texture.
Soak your meat in a salt water brine ratio of 1 cup water to 1-gallon water.
Add any additional spices you would like in the water as well.
Soak it for 1 to 1.5 hours per pound of meat.
Pat it dry when you are done soaking it.
This simple technique is well worth the extra time, and the patience necessary. After you learn your favorite seasonings, wet brining will be a must for any meat in your household.
You can also check out this article on How To Brine Meat – An Intro And Guide To Brining for a more in depth introduction to wet and dry brining meat.
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