Brining: Does it Make a Difference?

When Hilary suggested that I try brining joints of meat to enhance the flavour and texture I was sceptical to say the least. When I say ‘suggested’ I may mean nagged for approximately 10 years whilst I resistantly ignored the information until reading an article in the Guardian on how to make the best Fried Chicken and finally the ‘seed’ germinated!

The principle of brining is to infuse a piece of meat with seasoning through osmosis. The result being a succulent and flavoursome joint.

After a trip to Blackwoods Farm Shop, near Earls Colne in Essex, I returned home clutching a rather large chicken and the other essentials for a Sunday roast. Hilary’s instructions stipulated that any vessel large enough to hold the piece of meat, either submerged or virtually submerged, will suffice; this could be a washing-up bowl, a lunch-box, a cool-box, a fridge drawer etc. It’s worth bearing in mind that if there’s a lot of space around the piece of meat that more brine will be required to submerge it, so if you can find something which is a fairly snug-fit for the joint you won’t need as much brine. I had a very large glass jar to hand and with a little wrestling I soon had the chicken wedged inside.

Next task to make the brine (you’ll probably need more than 1 litre but this provides the correct ratio of salt to water):

30g Sea salt

1 Litre of cold water

You can add other botanicals, fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, to give additional flavour to the brine; lemon slices, garlic, bay leaves etc. One point to bear in mind is that unless you add these flavourings in substantial quantities they won’t impart specific flavour.  There is some dispute in the culinary world as to the actual impact of some additional brine ingredients but all sources seem to agree that the salt has the greatest impact on the resulting flavour.

I decided to keep things simple for my first endeavour and made the basic salt and water brine by combining the ingredients and stirring until the salt had dissolved into the water. I poured the brine into the glass jar until the chicken was submerged, popped the lid on and placed it in the garden to keep cool (unfortunately my jar was too big to fit in the fridge but the winter weather was my saving grace!). The other problem with using a large glass jar is that once the brine was added my poor chicken instantly resembled something preserved in a science lab!

It took roughly 2 minutes from start to finish to set-up the brine and the chicken- hardly an onerous task.

My large chicken spent about 3 hours in the brine, but a smaller piece of meat would require less time (for example a partridge takes approx 1 hour 15 minutes, a loin of pork around 3 hours 30 minutes).

After 3 hours I poured-off the brine and wrestled the chicken out of the jar (a rather traumatic process for both myself and the chicken which could easily have featured on ‘One Born Every Minute’ and is probably a daily occurence for most midwives!). Anyway, in the end the chicken was free from the jar and still in possession of it’s limbs!

A quick towel-down with some kitchen roll and the chicken ready to roast.

The Result:

The brining process is very quick and easy and I have to admit, despite my scepticism, the chicken was wonderfully moist and flavoursome. The brine definitely permeated throughout the joint so the seasoning was even and not over-powering. The chicken didn’t leach excessive amounts of water during roasting and the skin still crisped. Probably the best roast chicken I’ve ever cooked, and given the complete absence of any left-overs an opinion shared by everyone at the table! It beacame very clear that my past efforts to season meat have been ineffectual and superficial.

Well, Hilary finally succeeded in converting me…I am now a brine-o-holic and haven’t looked back since!