Brining is the process by which meat is marinated for several hours in a solution with a high salt content before it is cooked. This soaking process allows the meat to absorb a great deal of liquid prior to being prepared, and retain that moisture. Brined meat is generally more tender and flavorful than that which is not marinated. There are a wide variety of recipes for this type of marinade available, and many are easily adaptable to any cooking needs.
This cooking technique is viewed by many chefs as a beneficial step in the preparation and cooking of meat. Soaking it in a salty solution can add a great deal of flavor. The basic ingredients of brine are salt and water, but any combination of other spices and liquids, such as peppercorns and fruit juices, may be added to this base mixture so that their flavors are also imparted to the meat.
This method typically begins when salt and sugar are mixed in the liquid. Through diffusion, these two ingredients move from a high concentration, in the brine itself, to an area of low concentration, in the meat or other food item placed in the mixture. Any other spices or flavors added usually also transfer with the salt and sugar during this process.
Brining generally creates more tender meat. This happens because salt allows the cells of the meat to absorb the marinade via osmosis. As the meat cooks later, it releases this stored liquid slowly and does not dry out. It may also reduce the overall cooking time of the prepared dish.
This process can take up to 24 hours for certain types of meat. A turkey, for example, should be completely thawed and placed in a cold brine solution the day before the meal. This allows all parts of the bird to thoroughly absorb the liquid, including the skin. Other meats that cook well when marinated in this way are chicken and pork.
To make a basic brine, a cook can combine 1 cup (292 g) of table salt for every gallon (3.78 l) of water. Either iodized or kosher salt may be used. Any combination of spices, such as cloves, garlic, cinnamon, and nutmeg, may also be added. Apple juice and vinegar are other common ingredients.
Cheeses can be brined as well. They are typically washed periodically in a salty solution during the aging process, which adds flavor, from the brine itself and through the addition of bacteria. Limburger and camembert are both cheeses made this way. These kinds of cheese are typically identified by a rind that builds up on its exterior due to the additional bacteria.
Brining may also be referred to as pickling or corning. Meats are corned, while vegetables are typically said to be pickled. After the process has finished, these foods are stored in vinegar. For this reason, pickling tends to give foods a sour, salty taste.