Brining makes lean meats incredibly moist and delicious. I have discovered and developed taste in many meats and meat cuts which are normally not my first choice thanks to the art of brining. But what makes it so delicious and moist? Well it’s the science behind it. When compared to marinades which stick to the surface of the meat and penetrate just below the surface, brine has a deeper penetration making the meat moist. The salt in the brine changes the structure of the protein so that they are able to hold more moisture. No wonder some of the turkey and chicken breast you taste is often dry and cotton like whereas others are soft and mouth watering! It’s the magic of the brine. While changing the protein structure the meat also tends to become tender.
However one hotly debated topic with respect to the science behind brining is the phenomenon of osmosis which is attributed to moistening of the meat. Now if it were to be true, shouldn’t the water move from an area of low solute(salt) concentration (the meat) to an area of higher solute concentration? J. Kenji Lopez of Food Lab debunks the osmosis theory by experimenting with a 6% and 35% brine solution, he proves that 35% brine solution is as likely to make the bird moist.
Wet vs Dry Brine : Which one Should you choose?
Dry brining is another term for salting the meat. It’s much less labor intensive and results in absorption of the moisture from the skin of the bird . Hence you have a delicious crackling skin. Dry brining however is a time consuming process and isn’t always the best solution when you have skinless meat. If you are looking for moisture wet brine is ideal. In this post I will provide you a sample wet brining recipe which resulted in incredibly moist meat of turkey, a bird a normally do not tend to enjoy. However, when brined it can be absolutely delicious. Hence the verdict is: for a crackling skin dry brine for moist meat wet brine!
So where is the art?
The post is titled “Art and Science of Brining” , and so far it appears a scientific process , so where is the art involved? Well, like every cooking technique imparting flavor and interpreting the brine in your own way is an art. The brine demonstrated in this post is a spicy brine however, citrus , cider, fruity, herbed the varieties are abundant and open to your own interpretation.
A perfectly brined oven roasted turkey can be served on any special dinner occasion or during the festive season. The key to a great turkey roast is the crispy skin of the bird. A saggy fatty skin is devoid of any flavor and should be avoided. It is also essential to ensure the bird is moist and flavors have penetrated inside the meat and are not sticking to the skin . To achieve that brining the bird is a very important step and should never be skipped. As discussed earlier, the focus is to achieve maximum moistness hence wet brine is selected. I recommend buying the turkey at least a 24-48 hrs in advance . If you are buying frozen turkey it must be bought at least 48 hrs in advance as it is best to defrost it naturally.
For the Brine
- 1 fresh free range young turkey 10-12 lbs
- 5 cups of water (1.2 liters)
- 1 cup of kosher salt
- 1 cup of brown sugar
- 2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon cloves
- 10-12 cardamom pods
- 6-8 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 bunch of fresh thyme (about 8-10 sprigs)
- 8 sprigs of rosemary
- 6 cloves of crushed garlic cloves
1 .In a large saucepan add the water , salt, sugar, bay leaves, peppercorn, cloves , cardamom and the cinnamon stick and bring to a boil . Removed from heat and set aside.
2. Pat dry the turkey, ensure neck and giblets are removed.
3. Fill a large container (big enough to hold the turkey) with ice half way through. Add the crushed garlic, thyme and rosemary. Add the brine and stir.
4. Add the turkey in the brine. Cover it completely with water and close the container with it’s lid. Let the turkey brine in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Roasting the bird
- 4 celery sticks chopped into medium sized pieces
- 2 large yellow onions chopped
- 6-8 carrots diced
1. Remove the bird from the brine and pat dry. Truss the bird with a butcher string so as to hold it tightly. Instructions on trussing a bird can be found here.
2. In a roasting pan add carrots, onions and celery. Add the turkey on top.
3. Preheat oven to 375 F. Place the roasting pan inside the pre heated oven and roast for an hour. Check the temperature of the inner thigh of the turkey as an indicator . Check every 30 minutes. When the temperature is between 165-180 F the bird is cooked. My personal preferred set point is 170 F.