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This past Easter I roasted a whole chicken which turned out so tender the meat fell right off the bones and not a hint of dryness was found on any piece of meat – including the breast.
When I was asked at the dinner table why it tasted like this, I said I soaked it in a brine. My sister asked, “What’s a brine?” and before I had a chance to impress her with my culinary jargon, my brother described it in 3 concise words: “It’s salt water”.
Somehow it just seemed my amazing wonderful secret, wasn’t so impressive anymore.
The truth is, that’s what a brine is, a simple solution of salt + water.
There is no magic ratio of salt and water, however I have seen 3.50% and 5% described. That’s translated into 3.5% grams of salt per 1 liter. Usually most people will say soak overnight (8-10 hours), but personally from my experience a few hours is fine. For my oven roaster chicken, I soaked it in the morning for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
I had no idea how much salt I used – perhaps 1/4 Cup or less. In my paranoia, I added some extra salt after the first 30 minutes or so. That may be why the brine was able to do it’s majic in a short amount of time.
Last Sunday, I grilled a whole chicken over a grill – this time I soaked it for a day (24 hours) – yes longer than normal, but we changed plans and so the show went on a day later.
The meat this time tasted amazing, but it was a bit dry, however this could be to the serious over grilling which occurred as evidenced by layers of black sheets of charcoal covering most of the pieces. Ok – so I tend to over do things sometimes, I can’t help it!
Adding ingredients to a brine:
You can add flavors to a brine, such as honey or other sweetener. I haven’t tried this before so I can’t give you my personal experience. A good article by formerchef.com explains some tips for brining chicken using some vegetables and herbs.
Brines can be used for more than meat – pickles are cucumbers soaked in a brine for example. Even olives are stored in a brine for preservation – as is the main reason for using a brine with vegetables.
Doesn’t a brine make the meat taste salty?
Interestingly no it doesn’t – unless you leave it in for way too long, like 3 days which we did once… bad move. I don’t have the scientific reasoning, but a brine should not make your chicken taste salty when done correctly – and it is pretty fool proof. Seriously – the first time we did it here it worked, so there you go.
What does a brine do?
The salt in the brine causes the proteins in the meat to relax. This in turn causes the cooked meat to remain juicier, and less tough.
Is a brine the same as a marinade?
In my opinion I’d say no. The reason is… you wouldn’t taste a brine to see how your meat will come out, but a marinade you would. The brine isn’t to add flavor but to prep your meat so the texture comes out perfectly.
A marinade although can have the same effect, it’s main purpose usually is to enhance or add flavor to the chicken, beef, fish or whatever you’re marinating.
So remember, a brine is just water and salt. However, more importantly remember when asked to never describe your secret as a salt and water solution… no… no… it’s the “brine” that makes the difference!
Share your secrets to any brining tips you might have – we’d love to hear them!