To Brine, or Not to Brine: That is the question

TO SOME PEOPLE THERE IS NO QUESTION—THEY HAVE THEIR ANNUAL TURKEY BRINING TRADITION.
I first heard about brining last year and upon being introduced, I searched and found that brine is a salt and water solution and learned that soaking in brine before roasting makes turkey juicer and tastier.

BASIC BRINE

Myrecipes.com says, “Brining is a technique that submerges food in a salt solution to prevent moisture loss during cooking, creating succulent, juicy bites.” A basic brine can be used for fish, shrimp or white meats such as chicken, turkey or pork.

Smithsonian.com says when you place a turkey in a brine, the proteins in the turkey rearrange to incorporate the sodium and chloride ions from the salt. This reconfiguration of the protein makes the meat more tender.

Frozen turkeys found in the grocery stores are pre-brined, containing turkey broth, salt, sodium phosphate, sugar and “natural flavorings for tenderness and juiciness.” Brining a store-bought turkey is unnecessary. Untreated turkeys, from the wild or raised on a turkey farm, such as Ferndale Market, are best treated with a brine solution. 

 

SIMPLE TO COMPLEX  

A simple brine consists of water and table salt (sodium chloride). A 12 to 17-pound turkey should soak in 2 gallons of cold water and 1 cup of salt. You can add onions and allspice for flavor. Put the turkey in a plastic bag in a 5 gallon pail outside (when the temperature is 40-50 degrees). When done soaking, drain the brine solution from the turkey and thoroughly rinse it before roasting. 

Brining kits are available at the grocery store and specialty markets. Ferndale Market sells Wayzata Bay Brining spice, a trusted pre-packaged brine.

Martha Stewart adds more ingredients to a brining solution and instead of basic table salt, she uses kosher salt (coarser than table salt and good for seasoning meat). Stewart adds bay leaves, fennel, coriander, thyme, peppercorns and brown mustard seeds. She includes chopped onions and garlic cloves, sweet white wine and some juniper berries to boost. She simmers the brine, pours it over the turkey (in a roasting bag) and suggests refrigerating for 24 hours. 

SALT AND SPICE

Salt is one of the oldest food seasonings and is important in food preservation. An essential nutrient for humans, salt acts as an electrolyte and osmotic solute. However, excessive salt consumption may increase risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure. Salt substitutes such as potassium chloride have been taste-tested and produce surprising results in brines.

Spices, including garlic and onion, add flavor and health benefits. Consumer Reports claims health benefits of garlic include lower blood pressure and cholesterol, decreased anti-inflammatory effects, reduced risk of cancer and a stronger immune system. The savory smells of the spices in the stuffing create an aromatic house that almost makes one drowsy just smelling the scents.

CONNECT THROUGH FOOD

Besides hearing about brining, I have gotten to hear hunting, fishing and snowmobile stories during break time at the office (I also work for an electrical contractor) over the past year. Food brings people together, from talking about and sharing recipes, to preparing meals and enjoying food and time together. I encourage you to ask your coworkers and friends about their food traditions. Maybe you will discover your new favorite food or recipe and develop a deeper connection with someone else.

Jorrie Johnson is publisher and editor of Rochester Women magazine.