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Busboy

Death to brining

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I'd always thought the reason my brined food tasted like crap was because I was a bad cook, but last night I had dinner at the well-regarded Corduroy here in DC and the kitchen sent out a whole baby chicken that had been perfectly roasted but brined and which was so offensive neither my wife or I could eat a bite.

[in Cordouroy's defense, the pork belly was extraordinary]

Brined poultry tastes as though it has been preserved with a particularly offensive marriage of "lite" salt and MSG. And the texture -- talk about rubber chicken circuit! It is utterly unnatural, with a mouthfeel like something that's been preserved to prevent spoilage over a long sea voyage. Who invented this technique, the Royal Navy? Brined chicken would make an excellent entree in a menu featuring hardtack and cheap rum, once all the live sheep and toroises taken on at the last port had been consumed.

And today, at the street festival, my daughter got some "authentic Thai grilled" chicken. Brined, again. After being urged to take a bite, I remembered that, in addition to its other drawbacks brining also gives poultry the pale pink coloration of a building material that will eventually be found to be cancerous.

It's time to put brining in the same category as tall food and tomato water -- a moderately amusing fad whose time has passed. If you can't get your roast chicken to come out right without brining, serve beef.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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To each his or her own, I suppose. There's no doubt that brining alters protein texture, and certainly the flavor effects are not to everyone's taste, as your amusing hyberbole illustrates.

But 1) pork belly is often subjected to a similar technique; 2) despite the simplicity of the theory and the ease of application, a surprising number of people don't seem to be able to get brining right; 3) if it's turning your chicken pink, you're definitely doing something wrong.


Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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I guess that corned beef is brined, as well, and I got no beef with that (ha ha), but somehow brined poultry really puts me off.

The pink chicken was actually produced by the street vendor, and not me, so I assumed that it is common to all brtined birds. It's not a bright pink, more a pale pink that's somehow not quite the same as, say, a prefectly grilled breast and seems, like the taste, to be somewhat industrial.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I guess that corned beef is brined, as well, and I got no beef with that (ha ha), but somehow brined poultry really puts me off.

The pink chicken was actually produced by the street vendor, and not me, so I assumed that it is common to all brtined birds. It's not a bright pink, more a pale pink that's somehow not quite the same as, say, a prefectly grilled breast and seems, like the taste, to be somewhat industrial.

That sounds more like a smoke-derived coloration. It might be due to real smoke, or if your suspicions about the industrial naure of the product are on target, from smoke extracts, or even a nitrate treatment.


Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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You are wise.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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As Dave implied, a lot of poultry is already put in nitrate. This is essentially a brining solution. Brining a "prebrined" or industrial bird can lead to some poor results. You need to wash the bird completely & use less salt in your brine. The best results are obtained with a fresh bird that is being subjected to a saline solution for the first time. Most brines should be washed off the bird.

If your brined bird STILL tastes too salty, reduce the salt content of the brine and/or brining time to your taste. There is definitely a "sweet spot" of when it is tender and juicy, rather than a gelatenous salt lick.

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I agree... although I am not american and therefore not a fan of the turkey, I wouldnt consider making one without brinning... big bird, dry bird.

brining is my friend... love brining tiger shrimp (in a salt, garlic, lemon, bay leaf), after deveining for 1 hr, then cooking... end result always a "plumber" shrimp

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I am always willing to entertain suggestions that my cooking is at fault; one problem with not being able to eat out often is that you can spend years preparing a dish before you ever find out how it's "supposed" to taste. However, the thing that made me realize that I just dislike brined birds intensly is that I was served one prepared by a well-regarded chef at an excellent restaurant.

Given that a properly roasted chicken (as challenging as finding or making one can be) can be divine, why brine it, anyway? I find the difference between industrial- brined and home-brined to be purely a matter of degree. Industrial-brined food tastes as if it were made entirely of inorganic chemicals, home-brined merely tastes as though it was injected with them.

And the texture really puts me off. I didn't know if we were supposed to eat the chicken, or dribble it in for a lay-up -- and remeber, this from a chef whose other creations had us ecstatic -- I find the whole process off-putting and unnecessary.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I agree... although I am not american and therefore not a fan of the turkey, I wouldnt consider making one without brinning... big bird, dry bird.

I am an American, but agree with you on the turkey. Yuck.

Your shrimp observation is interesting in that, as I was typing the original post, I realized that I have no problem with non-poultry brining. And that there is a fine line between marinating and brining. I'd be curious to taste your shrimp.

Curious, but skeptical.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I'd be curious to taste your shrimp.

always brine your shrimp. not for long, but let 'em sit in a bath of salt water.

now i always brine chicken. with good results. i've never noticed a huge change in texture. surely chicken parts sitting in a salt water solution at home for 2 hours doesn't compare to the chemical injected birds that you probably don't like from the store.

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Brining poultry works for me. Perhaps your brine is too strong, you are brining too long, or you are brining poultry that has already been "flavor enhanced". I'm fairly sensitive to oversalted foods, but don't have a problem with a properly brined bird. Adding a good portion of sugar to your brine is important. Just because your chef screwed up doesn't make brining a bad thing.

Jim

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Try the brined shrimp, trust me, it makes a big difference.... when I serve shrimp cocktail style with a variety of sauces I always always brine (not always when sauteing shrimp with other ingredients) ... i think there was a Confusius quote or chinese proverb that read something like "to taste good, a fish must swim three times, in water, in butter and in wine" ... same idea with shrimp, but 3 salts (brine, boiling salty water and ultimate salty sauce like a tarragon parsley sauce or a great miso sauce...or a capery olived tartar... or... )

gotta go... sudden hunger strikes again

Happy Brining!

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I (almost) always brine shrimp, and I (almost) always brine duck, chicken, and turkey. The "almost" happens only if I'm too lazy to brine. I have never noticed a significant change in texture, and certainly never one towards the "rubbery". Nobody I have ever served brined foods to have ever complained. Indeed, most have lauded my efforts.

I am guessing you are either brining the wrong kind of bird (like a kosher bird) or you're brining for waaay too long. A twenty pound turkey, yes, can brine for twelve hours no problem, but a duck or (fryer size) chicken I would not brine for longer than four hours.

EDIT to add eGCI link: eGCI brining class


Edited by bleachboy (log)

Don Moore

Nashville, TN

Peace on Earth

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Sorry your experience with brining chicken has not been good, and hope you won't categorize all brined poultry as "a moderately amusing fad whose time has passed." I've never had the problems you described, and do prefer to either brine chicken or purchase kosher. It's not always the cooking method that is why chicken does not "come out right"; it's often the quality of the bird and brining helps, in the opinion of many.

I often brined shrimp, too, before moving to Florida and using fresh local shrimp. If the store is out of them, and I have to use previously frozen or farm raised shrimp, I still do. I always brine turkey, I sometimes brine pork, and I've even brined beef a few times!


Life is short; eat the cheese course first.

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always brine your shrimp.  not for long, but let 'em sit in a bath of salt water.

Shrimp live in a bath of water and salt. No need to brine them, just don't over-cook them, you know what Emirel say's? "They got those built in thermometers". :laugh:


"He could blanch anything in the fryolator and finish it in the microwave or under the salamander. Talented guy."

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Nice mental image on the "dribble it in for a lay-up" remark. After giving your disregard for the gum-ball of a chickchicken that you ate at one of your hero's restaurants serious consideration. I have concluded that what you don't like is the wings, thighs, and drummies :smile: . All dark meat :blink: . You see, busboy, the white meat (breasts) is what needs the added moisture---the seasoning is a bonus --- its a whole osmosis/presure/penatrateability (is that a word) thing.

---Don't blame brines they have been around as long as food.


Edited by chefdg (log)

"He could blanch anything in the fryolator and finish it in the microwave or under the salamander. Talented guy."

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OK, I admit that there are many reasonable people who are pro-brining. But the texture thing really puts me off -- maybe I'm just an osmosis-aphobe. And, truth be told, there appears to me to be certain cult of brining that strikes me as a little silly. It was definitely "flavor of the month," if you will, a couple of thanksgivings ago.

Bleachboy -- why on earth would you brine duck? I can grasp it, intellectually, for turkey and chicken, but ducks are so naturally rich and flavorful that messing with their cell-structure to ge a little extra water in seems passing strange.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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It was definitely "flavor of the month," if you will, a couple of thanksgivings ago.

i don't know many serious cooks who've started brining and then stopped because it was passe, or whatever word would be used to describe the backlash from a fad.

as far as giving shrimp a salt water bath, i stand by that, as shrimp obviously go through some changes between the time they're in their natural habitat, and the time they get to your grill.

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For what it's worth, I've had some troubles with brined poultry myself. I've taken to simply rubbing a whole bird well with sea salt a few hours before I roast it.

When I'm cooking pieces, I rarely bother to do anything at all, since I usually cook dark meat, which needs very little extra to oomph it up.

My other great disappointment is brined pork tenderloin. I find if I'm using decent pork, the brine's not really needed, and, if I'm using supermarket pork, brining tenderloin makes it taste like cheap ham. I suspect the fault there lies in the fact that most supermarket pork is already injected with some salt water nonsense.


A jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place.

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I ALWAYS brine pork chops, shoulders and legs. It helps keep the meat moist during cooking. I agree with the brined shrimp as well. Brining poultry is a little tricky, however. Skinless pieces are a no-brainer, but skin on requires some extra love. You must dry your skin on pieces a little, either by letting them sit out and wiping them periodically with a towel or putting them next to a fan, and always on a cooling rack. Otherwise you won't receive the crispy skin that makes chicken worth eating. I like to do flavored brines for the most part. Equal parts salt and sweetener(sugar, brown sugar, honey or molassas, depending on the application), alway herbs, dried chiles sometimes, achiote for color and flavor, sometimes, and anything else lying around that I have the taste for. I cannot believe that having something properly brined is not better than having the same thing not brined. Your basically making bacon with other animals, and bacon's good.


Ryan Jaronik

Executive Chef

Monkey Town

NYC

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Ok... I can't stand it anymore. Some of the examples I have read here tells me that a lot of folks out there just don't "get" brining. I recognize all of the symptoms because I have done all of them myself.

In the misguided sense that when you have a good thing, "brining", then more of a good thing is a good thing and trying to make that thing do more than was intended is really fun.

All of the mistakes below have been committed by me so I can attest to the results... not good.

The first fundamental mistake is that all of the brining recipes are written in volume of salt (cups) per volume of water. That works if you have the right volume for the type of salt used. Table salt, Morton's kosher, Diamond kosher, etc. all yield a different final salt concentration for a given volume. That is because of differing densities for the different salts. To be really correct, recipes should be written by weight. But that is a whole 'nother argument that will probably not be settled in my lifetime so there you are.

The second mistake is taking a simple process and trying to add more to it. When you add "all that other stuff" to the brine, you are essentially changing the process. Tests have been done, some reported here, that even water soluble flavor compounds do not really penetrate into the meat as you might expect. I have done many of these recipes on chicken and turkey and have been universally dissappointed in the results. I gave it up. I quit trying to make the brining process more than it is supposed to be and I quit using up expensive ingredients with no gain.

If you start adding "other stuff" to the brine, you change the chemistry of the situation with god-knows-what results. The most extreme example is adding citrus. Bad idea. You have just added acid and are on your way to salty chicken ceviche. And ceviche is mushy when cooked. Bleh. Other ingredients may do unexpected things. Busboy's pink chicken may be a case in point. Either nitrates were added to the brine intentionally (why?) or some other ingredients in the brine acted like nitrates. Who knows what those compounds leaching out of the seasonings will do supposedly trying to season at the same time as brining. The complexity could get staggering.

The other problem is the syndrome of if a little is good a lot is better. This is normally the time factor or maybe the concentration factor. Longer is not better and higher concentration does not help you out.

I have seen this phenomenon before. You take a simple idea, start trying to get really cute with it, and f*** it up. :biggrin: (Though most of my experience in this area has been with computer systems. :laugh: )

Back to basics... The purpose of brining is to subtley change the character of the protein so that it can retain more moisture. Nothing more, nothing less.

I have come back around to plain, simple brining, water and salt. I have chosen to standardize on the concentration and vary the time. (chicken breast 1 to 2 hours, a really big roasting hen overnight about 10 hours, a turkey 18 to 24 hours, a pork butt 12 to 18 hours, etc.)

I keep my seasoning strategies totally separate from the brining process.

My chicken still tastes and feels like chicken, it is just much moister. It is not rubbery or mushy. It is not too salty. It has just enough salt in there to enhance the chicken flavor but not enough so you could say that it has been salted. In fact, the sign of success is when I have carved that chicken and my eaters exclaim... "This is really juicy and delicious. Did you brine it?" The point being that a properly brined piece of meat should be enhanced, not changed. And it surely shouldn't taste like ham.

And, no, koshering is not the same thing as brining nor is it intended to be. Koshering involves exposing the surface of the meat to a very high concentration of salt for a short period of time. That purifies the surface and infuses some salt into the very outer portion of the meat but you really don't get the same osmotic process going on. The result is good but not the same as brining.

As you might expect, I am pretty suspicious of adding sugar to the mix. :hmmm:

And... Busboy... Next time you want to dump a "supermarket" pork butt in the trash, I will be right over. My smoker gets hungry. :laugh:


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Hey, who doesn't like bacon?

But sometime you want your pork to tastes like pork, or you braise your shoulder to get the same juicy goodness allegedly delivered by brining. And, even the most dedicated briners admit that the process changes the texture of the meat, particularly chicken.

Hey, I never understood the popularity of Mahler, Harry Potter or Nigella Lawson, either, so maybe it's just me.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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And... Busboy... Next time you want to dump a "supermarket" pork butt in the trash, I will be right over. My smoker gets hungry. :laugh:

It was just a tenderloin, and it was nasty. Not worth smoking up.

It's also possible that I actually finished if off, and that I was getting a little hyperbolic in the earlier post. After years of telling the kids to "eat it, dammit," you have a certain image to uphold.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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