The brine. A chef’s secret to adding flavor and keeping meats from drying out. You could leave a properly brined chicken in the oven all day and it would still be juicy.
A brine is a a sugar/salt solution. When submerged in this solution, the sodium begins breaking down the proteins. As the proteins break down, their ability to swell, or ability to absorb liquid increases. In goes the brine, juicy becomes the meat, in go the flavors of the brine, sit back and take a ride to flavor town.
Now, that being said, it is critical to reiterate that a brine is a sugar/salt solution. Over brining, or using an unnecessarily high sodium concentrate will of course make the food salty and inedible. So, like any food science, we use a ratio. And we are selective about what we choose to brine.
There are 2 incredible aspects to brining. First, and most important, meats do not dry out (try brining your next Thanksgiving turkey). Second, and due to the nature of the brine, you have the option of really forcing some great flavor into your food. As noted, the proteins will absorb the brine (they can gain an additional 10% of their weight in liquid with the help of a brine). So why not add as much flavor as possible to your brine?
I love to brine large chickens, pork loins, turkeys, and some game items, like cornish game hen. All of these items have a tendency to become dry when over cooked, and a brine is a great tool to help prevent this.
On a side note, brines, though great, do not and will never replace good cooking techniques. They are simply another tool in our arsenal of culinary weapons. They help us, but good, solid and fundamental technique is irreplaceable.
Brined and Roasted Pork Loin
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 2 hours
Inactive cook time: 12 hrs
Makes 6 portions
1 pork loin, trimmed of excess fat and silver skin
2 head garlic, sliced in half
4 large yellow onions, rough chop
1 bunch sage
2 sticks celery, rough chop
2 carrots, rough chop
3 sprigs rosemary
1 1/2 bunch thyme
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 tbsp juniper berries
10 bay leaves
1 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup kosher salt
1 gallon water
In a stock pot, add the water, vinegar, salt, sugar, herbs (reserving the reserved herbs), garlic, peppercorns, juniper, 2 onions, and bay leaves to a rapid boil. Let cook to room temp. Place the pork in a plastic tub or brine bag and pour the brine over. Cover tightly and refrigerate for 12-18 hours.
Heat oven to 400. Remove pork from brine, rinse well and dry completely. Lightly mix the reserved onion, celery, carrots and reserved herbs in the oil. In the bottom of a heavy bottom roasting pan, place the vegetables on the bottom, and rest the pork on top. Roast, uncovered, approx. 1 hr, or until internal temp is 145. Remove from oven and let rest 15 min. Slice into 1/2 in slices and serve. (you can use the roast vegetables and associated pan sauces for a sauce- add a little apple cider, reduce, and see where it take you)
I like to serve this with apple sauce (see previous recipe), glazed carrots, root vegetables or wild rice pilaf with pecans and dry cranberries.
Tip: the ‘sugar’ in the brine can be substituted with any sugar. Molasses, corn syrup, cane sugar, agave nectar, and so on. The flavors in the brine should be specific to the meat you are roasting and the desired final product. The ratio I used is standard for brining any meats larger than 8 lb. One cup sugar, one cup salt, 1 gallon water.