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Pickle vs. Brine


Tom Gengo
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For years I have been proselytizing on the benefits of brining: chicken, pork, turkey, bread pudding (just kidding), etc. It seems that all I have read in magazines and books calls it brining when they include a sweetener. However,recently I read that it is actually a pickle when the sweetner is added to the brine. Makes sense to me, but I think it is a matter of perception. REad in The Sausage Book by Bruce Aidells about pickled pork from Louisiana and thought, "yuck." However, when I looked at the recipe I discovered that it is a brine w/ sugar... go figure. Would the general populace cook/eat/serve pickled turkey for Thanksgiving? Roasted pickled chicken sounds like a gherkin chicken, lol.

Please share your thoughts.

Tom Gengo

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I always thought that pickle refers to the preparation of vegetables or meat in a sour, salty, and sweet solution. It may be preserved or a quick pickle. The sour/salty/sweet solution itself is the brine. I call something pickled when its served in the brine solution itself--the presence of the brine is part of the preparation of a pickle. I call it brined when it is steeped in the brine, taken out, and prepared another way.

So you can have pickled pigs feet that are floating in brine. If you brine a pork chop then grill it, it was grilled. Both were brined but only one was pickled. Wow, this really is pretty confusing.

I'm sure people have their ways they use these words, but to me its a bit odd if not misleading to talk about grilled pickled pork chops. Its not wrong, but the nuance is a bit off, like a good speaker of English who uses a word that's not completely wrong semantically, it just sounds funny.

nunc est bibendum...

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Also, pickling is a curing / preservation technique. When you pickle you really saturate the food with the pickling solution. Brining is just about adding moderate amounts of salt and water, as a preparation before cooking.

Pickling has a long history in savory foods. I haven't heard of pickled turkey, but pickled herring is an old tradition.

Notes from the underbelly

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Don't most protein pickles contain vinegar? Pig's feet, mini hot dogs, eggs....

A couple of years ago, I'd have confidently said that a 'pickle' was distinguished by being acid ... (and I still think that most Britons would go along with that distinction).

However, I now know that US usage is that the two terms are used almost interchangeably.

For example, in the USDA Meat Processing Inspectors Handbook (link to pdf download), the term 'pickle' is used for what I'd call a 'curing brine'. No acid involved.

There are many cases in English-English where there are words that are essentially similar in meaning, but different in their impact. The 'polite' and sanitised version (like pork) derives from Norman French. Whereas the 'earthier', rougher, dirtier connotations come with the word deriving from Anglo-Saxon roots (like pig). The distinction between the polite and the coarse versions has its origins in class differences going back to the 1066 Norman conquest, and the conquerors becoming the aristocracy while the Anglo Saxons were universally reduced to peasantry. Roast pig anyone?

Having synonyms like that isn't a problem. No meaning is lost - rather its a way of conveying MORE meaning.

But I'm not sure that's what we are dealing with here. Rather, I think its a case of American usage confusing two different terms and thus losing the essential difference between them, and thereby wasting the usefulness of having the different words.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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