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Brines are an easy way to introduce flavor to meats

@BR Ednote:Editor’s note: Last week we explored marinades and next week we’ll take a look at rubs. If you missed the first part of this series you can find it at Bradenton.com/food.

Want to add flavor to a week-night dish? Why not try a brine?

Brining is easy, economical and requires no special cookware. Two great things about this process are that it is a fun to do and there are few rules to follow.

For me, there are two types of brines — a big brine and a little brine. The first is for large items like whole turkeys and chickens, large cuts of pork or whole turkey breasts. The little brine is for three to four chicken breasts, chicken parts, pork chops or a pork tenderloin.

Brining is the process of soaking meat, seafood or vegetables in a saltwater or seasoned saltwater bath. The purpose of this process is to infuse flavor and help meats retain moisture, so they stay juicy during cooking. The main difference between a brine and marinade is that salt is the key ingredient of a brine. This is a popular method for preparing poultry, especially turkey, and lean meat, such as pork, which has a tendency to dry out on the grill.

Most brines start with salt and water — kosher salt or table salt (without iodine) are the most common salts to use. Sea salt is another alternative, but it tends to be expensive. I usually use kosher salt. The standard formula for a brine differs based on which salt you use. A cup of table salt and a cup of kosher salt are not equal. Normally, more kosher salt is needed than table salt in a recipe. Kosher salt has larger crystals that dissolve more easily and weigh less than table salt. Keep in mind that not all brands of kosher salt are equal; some are saltier than others. Depending on your salt choice, you will want to adjust the water/salt ratio to achieve the “saltiness” you prefer. The ratio I use to make my brine is 1/2 cup of kosher salt (Morton is my preference) to every two quarts of water.

Brines can be simply salt and water however, the addition of herbs and spices can give your brine added flavor. The seasonings you select will depend greatly on the food you are brining. Fresh herbs work best, but dried herbs work also.

When I make a large brine (for a turkey) the quantities of herbs and spices I use are usually pretty large. If you are ever in doubt as to quantity, add more. When using fresh herbs, I add the entire bunch (chopped well) or I use four to eight tablespoons of dried herbs or powdered spices to my liquid solution. For a little brine, the flavoring quantities are smaller but still proportionately large for the mixture.

I use one-quarter to a half-bunch of fresh herbs chopped well and the dried herb and spice quantities range anywhere from one to four tablespoons.

If I’m looking for a little sweetness in my brine, I add 1/4 cup of regular white sugar, brown sugar, honey or molasses to the solution (some sweetness tends to offset the saltiness in the brine).

Sometimes, I use other liquids to replace some of the water in my brine; for example, apple juice/cider, orange juice, beer, wine or meat/vegetable stock.

A brine is any salty solution, therefore you have “wiggle” room as far as to what the brine is made from.

The amount of brining time is not set in stone. Even a little brining is better than none at all.

To determine how much brine you’ll need, place the meat to be brined in your chosen container.

Add water to cover; remove the meat and measure the water (this is also how I determine the amount of oil I need when I deep fry a turkey).

Here is the time guideline I use for brining.

These times can be adjusted to suit your taste, but when in doubt, shoot for a time in the middle.

n Whole chicken (4-5 pounds) — 4 to 12 hours

n Chicken parts — 1 to 1-1/2 hours

n Chicken breasts — 1 hour

n Whole turkey — 24 to 48 hours

n Turkey breast — 5 to 10 hours

n Cornish game hens — 1 to 2 hours

n Whole pork loin — 24 to 48 hours

n Pork chops — 12 to 24 hours

n Pork tenderloin (whole) — 6 to 12 hours

n Shrimp (peeled) — 20 to 30 minutes

n Shrimp (unpeeled) — 40 to 60 minutes

It is possible to end up with meat that’s too salty for your taste, so for your first attempt, brine on the low end of the time range. You can always brine longer the next time.

Always remember to brine your meat under refrigerated or cold conditions and make sure the brine completely covers the meat.

Before grilling/cooking, rinse the brined meat to remove the excess salt, then dry it with paper towels.

When I make homemade fried chicken (yes, I still fry chicken at home!), I start with brining my chicken and then proceed to place the chicken in a batter before frying.

My mom did it this way and it was always delicious. Also, my neighbor Mike, is a brining guru and claims he wouldn’t cook poultry or pork without this process. and I have to admit, his meats are flavorful, juicy and delicious every time.

Mike’s Speedy Brine

q 4 quarts water

q 1/2 cup sugar

q 1/2 cup salt

n Stir the ingredients together until the sugar and salt have dissolved.

n Add chicken or pork and brine in the refrigerator for a minimum of one hour.

Brine for poultry or pork

q 1 quart vegetable stock or water

q 1/2 cup kosher salt

q 1/4 cup brown sugar

q 1 teaspoon black peppercorns

q 2 bay leaves

q 1 quart orange juice, chilled

q 2 quarts ice water

n Heat two cups of the stock with the salt, brown sugar, peppercorns and bay leaves and bring just to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt.

n Add the remaining stock, the orange juice and two quarts of ice water and pour into a two-gallon container.

n When cool, add meat and let it brine for at least eight hours and up to forty-eight. Pat dry and cook.

Source: Food Networ-

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