Should you brine or not? It is a dilemma that many will struggle with. Some may not even be familiar with the concept of brining their chickens.
Some poultry companies do it directly from the factory. These poultry meat products will generally be labeled as “flavor enhanced” or “basted” or “self-basted” or simply “enhanced”. The brining typically involves injecting the chicken meat with a brine solution (a mixture of salt and water) at the factory packing plant.
With the right kind of well prepared and brined chicken meat, you basically have a “blank canvas” onto which you can incorporate lots of delicious flavors.
Many may not know it but the secret to truly delicious and juicy chicken is BRINING. Many might not even know what brining is but it is the easiest of things. You can do it comfortably in your home although some chickens are pre-treated with brine at the factory.
What is Brine and How Does it Work?
A brine solution typically consists of a mixture of salt, sugar, and water. The salt with draw the moisture out of the chicken and then the lost moisture will be replaced with the water in the brine mixture through a process of osmosis. As the water is absorbed into the piece of meat, the dissolved salt also seeps into the chicken breast. The sugar in the brine mixture can reduce the salt concentration or intensity.
Chicken brining has the added of advantage of giving you an extra bigger margin of error when cooking your chicken. If you are not sure your chicken is well cooked, you can grill it a little more and the chicken meat will still retain its juiciness thanks to the brine in the chicken breast. You should brine your chicken for about four to six hours.
What is the difference with a marinade?
The marinade works the same way as brine. However, in the case of the marinade, you have more than just water and sugar solution. The mixture in marinade generally includes sugar, lots of additives and flavorings. Making a chicken marinade requires a lot of ingredients and several steps to get it right. Brine is simple and straight to the point.
Making Simple Brine for Your Chicken
Factories generally have lots of weights and scientific measurements that they follow when brining their chickens on an industrial scale. However, if you are doing this from home, the process could be a lot simpler.
For the three pounds of chicken, you can do the following:-
- Take five cups of water and whisk it in a palmful of sugar and two palmfuls of salt until the mixtures are fully dissolved in water.
- Take a little sip of the brine solution. Does it taste like seawater?
- Put the chicken parts in a zip-top bag; place the bag in a big bowl and then pour the pre-mixed brine solution into the bag containing the chicken pieces. Make sure you seal as much air as possible from the bag and then seal it with the brine solution inside. Roll the chicken parts gently inside the brine solution in the bags and then put the bag in the fridge for about four to six hours.
- Once the chicken has been brined, pat it gently until it is dry and then grill it.
If you do it well, you can look forward to a juicy and delicious-tasting chicken meat that tastes very different from what you are generally used to. No sauce needed!
How To Brine Your Chicken
If you are buying poultry meat and planning to brine it to tenderize or enhance the flavor, you need to establish whether the meat has already been brined otherwise you risk making the poultry meat too salty and ruining the taste.
If you happen to buy a poultry meat product that is unadulterated, then you can brine it easily using a syringe and a brine solution to make the poultry meat tender, juicy and flavorful.
Below is a simple guide on DIY brining and how a brine solution can boost your cooking, poultry meat flavor and how you can make both dry and wet brine and use them in boosting the texture and flavor of your poultry meat.
The Salt and Juiciness
One of the problems that you face when cooking lean cuts is that the water dries out and evaporates from the poultry meat when the heat is applied. This is especially so when you overcook them.
If you want the outcome to be a tender and juicy piece of poultry meat, then you have to figure out how you are going to cook the poultry meat without making it too dry and almost like dry leather. Salt can help a great deal in tenderizing the meat and adding to the juiciness.
This is due to the complex nature of the meat proteins. They are typically complex, long and coiled. When the sodium and chloride ions in the salt enter the muscles, the electric charges react with the proteins in the lean cuts and enable them to hold onto moisture more effectively. When you add salt or brine to your poultry meat, less of the moisture will be lost during cooking.
Brined chicken loses less weight during cooking so you don’t have to worry about your chicken shrinking to smithereens when you cook it due to loss of moisture and fat. Additionally, the moisture and the brine injected into the poultry meat will generally stay closer to the meat surface.
This helps in counteracting a huge cooking issue. Generally, the meat on the surface will be hotter and overcooked as well as a dryer by the time the chicken is fully cooked. By adding brine, the additional moisture on the surface of the chicken meat helps the surfaces stay moist and juicy even after extended cooking.
Salt and the Tenderness
Chewing hard meat takes a lot of energy and might even cause a little headache. Chicken meat can be tougher depending on the cuts and the breed of the chickens. Some parts of the chicken are generally tougher such as the chest muscles.
The toughness in the meat can come from the connective tissues around muscles and bundles but the toughness could also be due to the structure of the protein. Meat can be tenderized when well cooked but adding some salt aids a lot in tenderizing the cuts. The salt generally tenderizes the meat even before you put it in the heat and begin cooking.
Salt and Flavor
Of course, salt is a flavor amplifier and brined chicken is generally quite good on the taste buds. You could simply sprinkle the salt on the meat to enhance the taste but with brining, you can bring out the salty taste in every bite and not just on the surface of the poultry meat.
However, too much salt can ruin the taste of your poultry meat so take care not to make the brine too salty. There is generally also the risk of brining chicken that has already been brined at the factory so you should read the labels and ask around to ascertain whether the meat has already been brined. If you over-brine your chicken meat, you will simply be pickling or curing your chicken meat.
Brining can also be used to bring out the flavor in the chicken by adding some sugar and spices. Some of these will penetrate or stick to the surface and add the extra flavor to the meat. If you want to up your flavor game, you can do it at the brining stage.