Brine Divine

by Matt Armendariz
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divinebrine.jpgIf you look in the dictionary under the word "impatient" you’ll most likely see my picture a few rows down. My disdain for playing the waiting game is a big reason why I don’t pickle, bake, brew or preserve too well, although I have aced the sauté, grill, and fry like nobody’s business. So you can imagine my dilemma when I first learned about brining meat. There were numerous knuckle biting moments when I had to accept that soaking meat for what seemed like an eternity really did yield a more flavorful, juicy bite. I may not have learned to deal with sitting around doing nothing, but I have certainly surrendered to the divine brine.

Brining is soaking poultry or pork in salted, seasoned liquid prior to cooking. It’s similar to marinating, but this process actually changes the texture of the meat. And it’s very simple. Depending on the brine and the cut of meat, the process can occur overnight or in as little as a few hours in your fridge–and the results are spectacular. The meat is juicy and flavorful, seasoned from within. And the best part happens when you grill: you’ll get that desired smoky char on the outside with a tender, moist texture on the inside. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time achieving both when I grill if I don’t brine.

Janet Fletcher from the San Francisco Chronicle summed it up perfectly: "Because there’s more salt in the brine than in the meat, the muscle absorbs the salt water. There, the salt denatures the meat proteins, causing them to unwind and form a matrix that traps the water. And if the brine includes herbs, garlic, juniper berries or peppercorns, those flavors are trapped in the meat, too. Instead of seasoning on the surface only, as most cooks do, brining carries the seasonings throughout."

Bingo! And there you have it.  So next time you’re working with pork chops, try your hand at brining. It’s divine.


Vanilla Brine for Pork

Vanilla? Yes. Vanilla. It imparts a subtle intriguing flavor on the pork. This recipe comes from The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly.

Ingredients
9 cups hot water
2-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cracked black peppercorns
6 (1-1/4-inch to 1-1/2-inch thick) center-cut loin pork chops
thermometer

Method
Stir the hot water, vanilla, sugar, and salt together until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
Add the black pepper. Cool to below 45 degrees F. in the refrigerator.

Trim any excess external fat from the meat. Submerge the pork in the
brine in a large bowl or small crock. Make sure the meat stays under
the surface during curing by using a heavy plate to weight it down.
Refrigerate the pork in the cure. The chops should take 4 to 6 hours in
the brine.

To test flavor of brined pork, cut a small piece off the meat, pat it
dry and pan-fry it. If the meat is sufficiently flavorful, remove it
from the brine, let it come to room temperature and grill. If not,
leave it in the brine and test again later.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

 

 

-- Also published on MattBites.com     

 

 

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