Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Shine With Brine

Have you ever wondered why some cooks can make a tender, moist bird and others end up with a dry, flaky mess? It is probably because the cook knew the secret to moist, tender birds . . . brining.

Brining is simply the process of soaking a bird in a solution of at least 15 percent dissolved salt, long enough for it to soak up as much moisture as the tissue cells can hold. It is very similar to taking salt tablets in hot weather. Salt helps the tissues retain water.

Here is how it works: When there is a higher salt content outside the cell walls rather than in it, liquid will diffuse through the membrane to the interior of the cell. This means your bird will stay moist throughout the entire cooking process. Chickens, turkey, pheasant, quail, and most other forms of poultry greatly benefit from this process.

The correct ratio of salt to water is one cup of ordinary table salt per gallon of water. Personally, I prefer to use Kosher salt, which is lighter and cleaner. It is also less salty so you will need to increase the salt to 1-1/2 cups per gallon. This will give you the required 15 percent solution.

To make a basic brine, place your bird in a large enough container or bag so that it is completely covered with liquid to a depth of three inches. Once you have the right size container, fill it with water to the required amount. Remove the bird (or birds). Measure the water into a large bowl. In another bowl, measure out the correct amount of salt.

Boil a quart of water on the stove and add the measured salt to dissolve in it. Let cool completely; then add the salt solution back to water in the original container. If needed, top it off with additional ice water. At this point, you can add flavorings, herbs and spices, wine, beer, etc., if desired.

Return the bird to the container, and allow it to brine in the refrigerator or cooler for the correct amount of time. It is important that the temperature be kept as close to 40 degrees F as possible during the brining process.

Soaking times depend on the size of the birds, and the cuts. Cut up pieces require less time than whole birds. It is best to err on the side of caution, because brining too long can make your bird taste unpleasantly salty. The general rule-of-thumb is one hour for every pound of birds. A bit less time for cut up pieces. A whole turkey should go for around 12-24 hours, or a whole chicken around 4-5 hours. Cornish game hens can usually be ready to cook in an hour or so.

When the appropriate time has elapsed, remove the bird(s) from the brine. Rinse it (them) off well (inside and out), pat very dry, and proceed with cooking.

Important note: Discard the brine. Do not re-use it.

That is all there is to it. The results will amaze you! So will this wonderful Maple Brine Recipe.


  1. Here (Malta) we have been using brine for capers and olives for a very long time. The easiest formula is to put enough (sea) salt in the water until a raw egg will float. The salt used to come from saltpans, some of which were hewn in the rocks: http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Europe/Malta/South/Malta/Marsaskala/photo906510.htm

  2. Excellent tip! Thanks Tanja!