Salt is one of the most powerful tools and chef can use.

Not only does is enhance the flavor of fresh food and preserve foods but combined with water, salt becomes more powerful and will aid in keeping meats moist and tender when cooking.

We are all familiar with the difference in flavor from well seasoned food and un-seasoned food.  Most people have enjoyed a good cured ham or some tasty beef jerky but the use of salt as a brine has not come into popularity until recently.

The most familiar use of brining has been brining turkey.  Many people now use brining as a method to keep big Thanksgiving turkeys moist.

Brining is an important tool to helping to keep many different cuts of meat moist during cooking.  Brining is the most effective marinade because it penetrates meat quickly and seasons the meat to the bone.  The salt water solution of a brine will enter the meat and expand the size of the protein molecules allowing for more moisture to stay in the meat during and after cooking.

I am often faced with cooking large quantities of meat and need to make sure every piece is tender, moist and seasoned properly.  Brining is an essential tool in my kitchen to make sure all meats are tender and tasty.

Last week I had a group of 100 kids and adults at Cal-Wood Education Center and wanted to roast  chicken leg quarters for dinner.  I needed to cook 75 lbs of chicken and had to be sure it every piece would turn out perfectly.

I was looking for a moist and tender piece of chicken with a crisp skin.  I used five gallon bus tubs to brine the chicken and a 2 to 1 ratio for the brine.  2 cups kosher salt and 1 cup of sugar for every 2 gallons of water.  The recipe was 5 cups of kosher salt and 2.5 cups sugar to five gallons of water but I wanted to give the chicken an interesting flavor  I replaced 1/2 of the water for apple cider.  I added some granulated garlic, thyme, rosemary and lemon juice.

The result was amazing.  The chicken literally fell off the bone.  Most of the fat reduced off while cooking and the skin became crisp and browned.

There was a hint of sweet apple cider, lemon and herbs in the meat.  The chicken was not salty but seasoned perfectly.  Such a simple meal made a big impact on the guests at Cal-Wood.  No less than 10 people came into the kitchen to say that it was the best chicken they had ever had.   Yay!  Mission accomplished!

This dinner is exactly what I strive to provide for my guests.  A simple and healthy meal made to taste wonderful.  Let me assure you that this time consuming process is well worth the effort.  Once you get in the habit of planning ahead and brining meat, poultry and pork you will not want to cook it any other way!

I recently posted a recipe for how to make corned beef.  This is essentially a brine as well.

Here are some brining tips and ratios from one of my favorite books.  Charcuterie-the craft of salt, smoking, and curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

All-Purpose Brine

1 Gallon Water

1 Cup Kosher Salt

1/2 Cup Sugar

Optional Seasonings such as rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, onion, parsley and black peppercorn

Combine all of the ingredients in a stock pot and simmer on the stove until the salt and sugar are dissolved.   Refrigerate until chilled.

Brining is a powerful tool so use with care.

Make sure to brine all meats in chilled brining solution in the refrigerator.

Do not go over the recommended time for brining as this may cause your meat to become salty.

Always let the meat rest for 2-4 hours after brining and rinsing to evenly distribute the seasonings.

Salt will be most concentrated at the outside of meat just after brining and will distribute evenly during the resting period.

Recommended Brine Times:

Boneless Chicken Breast (approx 8 oz)  2 Hours

Pork Chop (approx 1.5 inches thick) 2 Hours

Whole Chicken (approx 2 lbs)  4-6 Hours

Whole Chicken (approx 3-4 lbs) 8-12 Hours

Boneless Turkey Breast 12 Hours

Pork loin Roast (4 lbs)  12 Hours

Whole Turkey (10-15 lbs) 24 Hours

Thin Fish Fillets  1 Hour

Cider Brine Chicken

4-6 chicken leg quarters

1/2 gallon water

1/2 gallon apple cider

1 cup kosher salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 tbs rosemary

1 tbs thyme

1 tbs granulated garlic or 4 cloves minced fresh garlic

Simmer brining ingredients in a stock pot on the stove top until sugar and salt are dissolved.  Refrigerate brine until chilled.  Submerge chicken leg quarters in the brining solution.

Brine chicken for 4 hours.  Take the chicken out of the brine and make sure you discard used brining liquid.  Do not re-use brining liquid.  Rinse chicken throughly under cold running water.

Let chicken rest for 2-4 hours in the refrigerator after rinsing.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Pat chicken dry and place on a foil lined sheet pan. Roast in hot oven until internal temperature of 165  degrees and skin is crisp and browned.

Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.