Most people take refrigeration for granted, but it’s only been around since the 19th Century. A German engineer, Carl von Linden, invented the process if liquefying gas that is used in refrigeration units. Eventually Americans got into the act, and in 1911 GE, who has always claimed to bring good things to light, unveiled a refrigerator invented by a French monk, Abbe Audiffren.
However, mass production of refrigerators didn’t start until after World War II. Today, 95 percent of all Americans own one. So what did people do to preserve meat before there was a refrigerator? Usually, they soaked it in a salt water solution called brine. Today many cooks still brine meat, not preserve it, but to maximize its flavor.
Daniela Massey, a food scientist for the California-based company The Spice Hunter, says that brining locks in moisture. It does this because the salt in the brine breaks down part of the muscle filaments in the meat, allowing the water to enter and be trapped. Very little of this trapped moisture is lost during the cooking process, which means added juiciness in the finished product.
Daniela also says that most brines are just salt and water. However, you can add other ingredients like sugar, herbs, fruits, and spices whose flavor you want to infuse into the meat.
Keep in mind that these other ingredients are secondary, because the salt is the key to expanding the meat’s water-holding capacity. That means that the brine must contain a heavy salt base. She recommends you use about 8 oz of salt in a 2 gallon mixture, which is about what you’ll need to brine a whole turkey.
There’s another important reason to brine a turkey before you roast it; maintaining the internal moisture in the meat frees you from having to baste it every ten minutes.
Basting is, after all, an external application of moisture, whereas brining puts the moisture right inside the meat, especially in parts like the breast, which tends to dry out during the long cooking time necessary to thoroughly roast a turkey. Home cooks shouldn’t be hesitant about brining their bird because it’s incredibly easy, according to Daniela, and you don’t need any particular supplies.
Just find something big enough to hold your turkey and the brine, like a clean pail or bucket, an ice chest, or even a sturdy garbage bag. Pour the brine over the turkey and store refrigerated or on ice overnight.
Just make sure the temperature does not exceed 40 degrees F to prevent the meat from becoming contaminated with the bacteria that causes botulism. One solution is to put your turkey in a picnic cooler with ice, which will keep its temperature even.
Before roasting, you will want to rinse the meat with cold water and then pat it dry. The moisture will already be soaked into the meat, so you don’t have to worry that the skin stays wet. If you have never brined a turkey before, and are a little apprehensive about mixing spices, you might want to try The Spice Hunter’s new brine mixture.
It’s comprised of sea salt, brown sugar, cranberries, apples, garlic, orange peel, juniper berries, Malabar black peppercorns, thyme, rosemary and sage.
It has a great balance of fruit and herb flavors to complement the salt in the brine; it’s also a nice complement to any stuffing mixture that contains cinnamon, apples, apricots and chopped nuts. You can find it at Target and Safeway, or online at www.spicehunter.com. It retails for $7.99 for an 11-oz jar and $11.99 for a 22-oz jar.
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