"It gets confused a lot with marinating," Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails' executive chef Stephen Jones says. "It's a totally different beast."
Brine is a salt solution in which proteins or vegetables are submerged to give them flavor. Marinating uses an acid or oil base that desaturates. Brining saturates.
"The protein contracts and kicks out all of its juices and its moisture in a slow, gentle process -- that's why we brine over night or over long periods of time -- it slowly imports all that moisture back in," Jones says.
Once the proteins or vegetables are brined, they can be cooked however he pleases.
Jones uses brining to add flavor to four dishes on his menu at Blue Hound Kitchen. For him, it's not just about the end result, but also the process.
"It's cool because it's something so basic, but it's technique-driven," Jones says. "There's that cool science behind it, and it's really old."
So, we figured he'd be a great person to give us a lesson on brining. He shared six vital aspects to keep in mind when trying it in our own kitchen. Jones also mentioned that a lot of brining is figured out by trial and error.
Time The amount of time required to brine depends on the result desired. It takes practice. If brining chicken with citrus, don't let it brine for over 24 hours or the acid will begin to cook the protein. On the other hand, the lamb belly Jones brined sat in the liquid for 14 days. (He was making corned "beef" with it.)
Temperature The first temperature that is important is the water used to dissolve the salt. It must be hot enough to dissolve the salt, but nothing more.
Then, It's important to make sure the brine is cold before pouring it over meat so it doesn't cook the protein. Jones speeds the cooling process by adding ice to the brine. You can leave the ice in it if you please. As the protein brines, it is important to keep it in the fridge.
Exposure While brining, it is important to remember to submerge all of the meat or vegetables. Jones places plates on top to weigh down the contents.
Flavor Finding a flavor is up to you. Jones has used pickling spices to Kool-Aid to coffee to apple juice.
"I think about the end dish -- how I want it to taste and how I want it to look -- before I dive in with anything else," Jones says. "I always say to myself, how am I going to get there?"
He recommends beginners buy pickling spice from the store and use it to brine scallops, or citrus with chicken. Chicken is a good protein to start with because it's a cheap mess-up.
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In order to intensify brine, try reducing it by half.
Salt "Always remember the salt," Jones says. "Always, always, always." Since salt is vital to brining, we hope we'd all remember it . . . The ratio for brining is 3-to-1. This means there is 1 percent salt in the standard brine.
Drying out meat According to Jones, most forget to dry out the protein. Start by rinsing off the blood and then leave the meat out on the counter or in the fridge to dry out.