Usually, I’m all about keeping the bases simple and classic, and then mixing things up with accessories like sauces. But for this, I’m going to make an exception. If we’re thinking capsule cooking in terms of a capsule wardrobe, brine would be the spanx under the gorgeous dress. Not glamorous, I know, but really very helpful in making the whole ensemble work well, without being seen or getting any of the credit.
Brine is a blank canvas of possibilities – you can have it plain (salt and water), or you can add your flair through aromatics (which is one of my favourite ways to experiment). The infused flavour of the brine transfers subtly to the meat, and the juice goes into the gravy as well, which just creates a meal that works so well together.
- 25g salt
- 1 liter of water.
- Aromatics of your choice
- Heat water, salt and aromatics until salt has dissolved.
- Taste (a tiny amount of) the brine to make sure you like the way the aromatics are coming through. It should be saltier than you’d normally expect, but not make you want to die.
- Let aromatics steep while the brine cools down.
- Once cooled, remove the aromatics, then refrigerate the brine.
- Once the brine is cold, add the meat to the water, ensuring that it is completely covered.
Never add meat to a warm liquid. You HAVE to be patient with this, otherwise you risk creating a perfect medium for bacteria, and poisoning your guests. Dramatic, I know, but you can’t take shortcuts with food safety.
This is the same reason you NEVER put hot food into a refrigerator – it increases the temperature of the fridge too much, and lets bacteria have a field day while the fridge struggles to regain control.
To save water when brining, either use a container that is the perfect size to just fit the meat, or use a sealable bag that allows you to put the water and the meat into the bag, remove the air and seal the bag. This saves both space and water. Keep the bagged meat in a container or tray in case it leaks. DO NOT RE-USE BRINE. That’s just asking for trouble.
I just made a brine for my Christmas turkey, which I’m going to be cooking and freezing (I’m cooking for 300 people for Christmas day, as well as my family Christmas lunch, and this means I’m not going to have time to make hot dishes – everything I do has to be made in advance).
For my turkey, I doubled the above recipe, and then added 1/2 onion, sliced, zest of 1 orange, 1 Tablespoon crushed Juniper berries, and a couple of bay leaves.
When you’re deciding on what flavours (if any) you’d like to add to your brine, think about how you’re going to use the meat. If you’re going to make many meals from it, keep the brine simple so that you can turn the meat into other flavour profiles, like pork roast, with apples and sage, or with chinese 5 spice in a stir fry, or in a creamy mushroom sauce.. you may want to just do some salt and peppercorns. If your tastes are pretty stable, and you know you’ll always do pork in an Asian style, for example, you can try a brine with some star anise, ginger, some citrus, etc.
Other aromatics to toy with:
- Tea bags
- Cider (Any liquids must replace the water – you don’t want to mess with the salt to water ratio).
- Edible fynbos