Big Daddy’s Newsletter      


Number 2                                “All About Brining”                                  February 19th, 2002



My first newsletter was sent as an attachment to e-mail and was written with Microsoft Word.  While I haven't had many complaints, only one actually, I recognize that it is inconvenient.  So this issue will actually be in the body of the e-mail itself.  Because I am using an HTML format instead of plain text, I can use the formatting power of HTML and it should still be readable by anyone with a main stream e-mail.  However, if anyone has a problem reading this please drop me a line and I'll send you text or Word version.

In this issue I want to feature a piece on basic brining, which seems to be a natural follow-on to last issue's topic, roasting poultry.  I'm not going to bore you with all the nasty scientific details but there are plenty of websites packed with information on the topic.  I'm really hoping to give fellow home cooks and hobbyists enough information to convince them to give it a try -- if they haven't already J  I've also included a couple of great recipes that will allow you to try brining for yourself.  And lastly, a little food humor to perk up your day;  So, what's your sign anyway?

Yeah, I heard about brining...

But just what is it?  How does it help me prepare a better meal?  How does it work?  And on and on...

In recent years the technique of brining has become more and more commonplace, at first among professional chefs, then among serious cooking enthusiasts and, increasingly, among home cooks everywhere.  In this edition of my newsletter I want to explore these questions and demystify the technique, in part because I have become a true convert but also because once you see how easy it is and have tried it for yourself, I'm convinced you'll become one as well.

So, what is brining anyway?

Simply put, brining is the process of using salted water to convert dry, not-so-tasty meats into juicy delights that are bursting with flavor.  Sounds like a miracle, huh?  Well, in some cases the results will seem like a miracle.  It works especially well with meats that are inherently dry like turkey and chicken breast, pork tenderloins and center cut pork chops, but it can also help just about any cut of very lean meat.  In fact, in large part, we are brining more of our meats today because we have clamored for so long for the meat industries to shape up by offering us leaner, healthier cuts.  And these folks aren't dummies.  If that's what we want, that's what they'll give us.  And boy, have they!

It's no accident that you may have fond memories of grandma's juicy turkey dinners and mouth watering chops, but can't seem to get the same results in your kitchen.  That's because in grandma's day the meats she bought were far less lean.  They had a higher fat content and fat, as they say, is where the flavor and the tenderness is.  If you don't believe this then just go to the market and buy two steaks.  Look for steaks that are the same cut but that have dramatic differences in the marbling.  That's fat marbling in those steaks, and I guarantee that if you take them home and cook them both (not well done however, that's a rant for another day) you'll find the one with the most marbling to the juiciest and the most flavorful.  But over the last 20 years or so the meat industries have begun putting their stock on healthier diets, providing better living conditions and breeding them specifically to make them leaner and healthier.  The meats that grandma found in her market you just can't find today.  Not in this country anyway.

Okay, okay!  How does it work?

Consider this a simplified explanation.  If you want more details, or more science, plug the terms "brining" and "science" into your favorite search engine and you'll turn up a bunch of sites where you can learn more about the principles involved.  Suffice it to say that the key to how brining works can be found in a term you'll probably remember from your high school science class:  osmosis.

To refresh your memory which, if it's anything like mine, requires frequent refreshing, osmosis is the movement of a solvent through a semi-permeable membrane (such as the outside of a piece of meat) in order to equalize the concentrations of solute on the two sides of the membrane.  In other words when a piece of chicken, for example, is placed in a brine solution, osmosis will begin as nature tries to equalize the salt/water content of the meat and the brine.  It's as if the salt acts as a key that "unlocks" the cells of the meat allowing the water to enter.

Having the water enter the cells is a good thing.  Remember what I said earlier about fat being where the flavor and the tenderness is?  Well, that's because fat cells contain a higher percentage of water than other meat cells, and it is the water content of fat which makes cooked meat moist.  So it is only reasonable that getting more water into the meat cells will make the meat juicier.

Here are a couple of other neat things about brining:

Firstly, the process happens slowly, which means we can control it.  This is important since it is possible to over-brine.  Over-brining can cause the meat to become too salty and it can change the texture of the meat - yuck!  But because the changes happen slowly over time, it's simply a matter of stopping the process before that can happen.

The second neat thing is that when the water is absorbed by the meat, any flavorings in the water are also absorbed.  Gnaw on that for a few minutes.  Has the light bulb gone off yet?  Put your favorite herbs, seasonings, extracts, etc. into the brining solution and those flavors will be carried right into the meat allowing you to create all sorts of wonderful taste sensations!  Is that cool, or what?

And how long is long enough?

The correct answer to that depends on lots of variables including what you wish to brine, the size of the cut, even the type of salt, and can range from 30 minutes to, in the case of a turkey, overnight.  Just remember that these are just guidelines.  After you've done this a few times you'll begin to get the feel for what works best.

Shrimp 30 minutes
Chicken Wings 1 hour
Chicken Breasts 1 to 1½ hours
Whole Chicken (~4 pounds) 4 to 8 hours
Turkey Breast 4 to 8 hours
Whole Turkey (~12-14 pounds) 24 hours
Game Hens 1 to 2 hours
Pork Chops (1" thick) 1 to 1½ hours
Pork Loin Roast (4-6 pounds) 2 to 3 hours

Basic Brine

- If using kosher salt, which is preferred due to it's lack of impurities, double the amount to ½ cup.
- If using brown sugar, increase amount to ¾ cup.
- If using another sweetener, such as honey or molasses, omit the sugar.

Bring water to a boil and add the salt and sugar and allow both to completely dissolve.  If you are going to add herbs or seasonings add them now so the hot water will cause them to release their essence.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Place the meat (except for whole birds) into a one-gallon zip-lock bag. Add the cooled brine and press baggie to remove excess air and seal.  Place in fridge for recommended time.

Whole Birds

Give These a Try!

Here's a couple of my favorite recipes.  Brining makes them extra special.

Perfect Grilled Chops

You can get as fancy as you want with flavorings and rubs but few things are better than a juicy, tender pork chop hot off the grill.  If you grill these outside make sure the fire is hot:

If cooking indoors I recommend the pan be hot enough so that the chops are sizzling as soon as you lay them in.  Preheating over medium high heat for about 5 minutes should do it.  Start with thick cut (¾ to 1 inch), boneless chops, prepare the brining solution as described above and brine them for about 1 to 1½ hours.  

Before cooking, rinse the chops and allow enough time for them to come up to room temperature, about one hour.  Rub the chops on both sides with a little oil or spray and sprinkle them liberally with salt and pepper.  Put the chops onto the grill and allow to cook for 2 minutes.  Turn the chops and repeat, turning every two minutes until the chops have grilled for a total of eight minutes.  Check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer.  The chops are ready to come off the grill when the internal temp reads 140 degrees.  Allow the chops to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Because the cooking times will vary depending on the temperature of the grilling surface and the thickness of the chops, I always start checking the temperature after six minutes - better safe than sorry.  If you follow these instructions I guarantee you will be talk of the diner table - perfect chops every time!

Grilled Lemon Wings

4 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
a bunch of chicken wings trimmed to remove the tips

Put wings in a one-gallon, re-closable plastic bag along with the brine and allow to marinade in fridge for about an hour and a half. Discard brine.

Prepare your grill for indirect cooking and lay the wings on the grill away from direct heat. Grill the wings, turning occasionally so as to brown evenly.

While wings are grilling prepare the lemon sauce. On a cutting board sprinkle a little salt on the minced garlic and mash together to form a paste. Heat the oil and garlic together in a sauce pan over low heat for a couple of minutes to allow the garlic to become very aromatic. Mix the oil and garlic with the lemon juice in a glass baking pan (or bowl) and set aside.

When wings have about 15-20 minutes left (total grilling time should be an hour to an hour and a quarter) remove them from the grill and roll them around in the lemon sauce and return to grill. After another 10 minutes baste the wings with the lemon sauce.

When the wings are ready coat them one last time with the lemon sauce (important!  don't forget this last coating) and serve them puppies up.

Southern Astrology

All us good ole boys can recognize our sign J

OKRA (Dec 22 - Jan 20) - Although you appear crude, you are actually very slick on the inside. Okras have tremendous influence. An older Okra can look back over his life and see the seeds of his influence everywhere. Stay away from Moon Pies, but you would be really good with Collards or Butter Beans.

CHITLIN (Jan 21 - Feb 19) - Chitlins come from humble backgrounds. A Chitlin, however, can make something of himself if he's motivated and has lots of seasoning. In dealing with Chitlins, be careful. They can erupt like Vesuvius. Chitlins are best with Catfish and Okra.

BOLL WEEVIL (Feb 20 - Mar 20) - You have an overwhelming curiosity. You're unsatisfied with the surface of things, and you feel the need to bore deep into the interior of everything. Needless to say, you are very intense and driven as if you had some inner hunger. Nobody in their right mind is going to marry you, so just don't worry about it.

MOON PIE (Mar 21 - Apr 20) - You're the type that spends a lot of time on the front porch. It's a cinch to recognize the physical appearance of Moon Pies. This might be the year to think about aerobics. Or - maybe not.

POSSUM (Apr 21 - May 21) - When confronted with life's difficulties, Possums have a marked tendency to withdraw and develop a don't-bother-me-about-it attitude. Sometimes you become so withdrawn, people actually think you're dead. This strategy is probably not psychologically healthy, but seems to work for you. One day, however, it won't work and you may find your problems actually running you over.

COLLARDS (May 22 - June 21) - Collards have a genius for communication. They love to get in the "melting pot" of life and share their essence with the essence of those round them. Collards make good social workers, psychologists, and baseball managers. As far as your personal life goes, Collards should always stay away from Moon Pies. It just won't work. So, save yourself a lot of heartache. Collards are good with Butter Beans and Okra.

CRAWFISH (June 22 - July 23) - Crawfish is a water sign. If you work in an office, you're always hanging around the water cooler. Crawfish prefer the beach to the mountains, the pool to the golf course, the bathtub to the living room. You tend to be not particularly attractive physically, but you have a very, very good head.

CATFISH (July 24 - Aug 23) - Catfish are traditionalists in matters of the heart, although ones whiskers may cause problems for loved ones. You Catfish are never easy people to understand. You prefer the muddy bottoms to the clear surface of life. Above all else, Catfish should stay away from Moon Pies.

GRITS (Aug 24 - Sept 23) - Your highest aim is to be with others like yourself. You like to huddle together with a big crowd of other Grits. You love to travel though, so maybe you should think about joining a club. Where do you like to go? Anywhere they have cheese or gravy or bacon or butter or eggs.  If you can go somewhere where they have all these things, that serves you well.

BUTTER BEANS (Sept 24 - Oct 23) - Always invite a Butter Bean because Butter Beans get along well with everybody. You, as a Butter Bean, should be proud. You've grown on the vine of life and you feel at home no matter what the setting. You can sit next to anybody. However, you, too, shouldn't have anything to do with Moon Pies.

BOILED PEANUTS (Oct 24 - Nov 22) - You have a passionate desire to help your fellow man. Unfortunately, those who know you best - your friends and loved ones- may find that your personality is much too salty, and their criticism will probably affect you deeply because you are really much softer than you appear. You should go right ahead and marry anybody you want to because in a certain way, yours is a charmed life. On the road of life, you can be sure that people will always pull over and stop for you.

ARMADILLO (Nov 23 - Dec 21) - You have a tendency to develop a tough exterior, but you are actually quite gentle. A good evening for you? Old friends, a fire, some roots, fruit, worms and insects. You are a throwback. You're not concerned with today's fashions and trends. You're not concerned with anything about today. You're really almost prehistoric in your interests and behavior patterns. You probably want to marry another Armadillo, but Possum is another somewhat kinky mating possibility.



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