Infusing flavor is a fascinating thing. No, really, it is. It can make that intimidating turkey fall to its knees, that tough cut of beef come apart at the seams, or that blank canvas of pork practically jump off the page. All it takes is a little chemistry, a little confidence, and a few ingredients that are probably already on your shelf. This entry isn't as scientific as it may sound, if you'd like the chemical requirements I'd suggest consulting an expert or checking out some websites that suggest they have the chemical key to these concepts as I will make no such claim here.
I will admit, laziness and distrust have long been my companions in an ongoing campaign against using brines and marinades. I am sure many of you have unknowingly been members of my cause over the years as well. It was always hard for me to justify the extra time and effort it took to try to infuse additional flavors into my foods when I could easily add it during the cooking process. But this past holiday season made me change my mind. I cook roasted chicken regularly throughout the year and even make a turkey or two, but when I was hosting both of our families at once this season I wanted to make sure it was a no fail meal. I figured it was just one time so it was no big deal, I'd give that brine idea a shot. The results were amazing! I could not believe how quickly the turkey was eaten up, people even went back for seconds before diving into the beef tenderloin (which usually gets the highest reviews on the table). So here I am, a believer. If you already were, perhaps the options I give you here will add to your repertoire or inspire you to take a new spin on some of your favorites. But if you are hesitant, like I was, I invite you now to come with me down a little path that leads to flavor lane. Just take my hand - it won't be that bad - and together we'll let the journey begin.
The World is Your Marinade: The kitchen counter chemistry concept - an acid, a salt, and a good base. For acid juice works well, lemon is generally nice, as does wine . For salts I like to use kosher salt or soy sauce. A good base can be made up of stock or olive oil, just a little something extra to help move those spices around and really soak into the meat. Then all you need are some seasonings, usually something that give a good flavor line up to your meal.
Pork Marinade (prepared with my Fry All Your Cares Away Pork Chop recipe)
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/3 cup apple juice
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 ½ tsp minced garlic
- ½ tsp freshly grated ginger
- Combine all the ingredients in the marinade and stir well to combine. Add the pork chops, flip a couple times to get good coverage. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours (probably could go for less time but I prep in the morning and cook after work). Flip once before the last 30 min if possible.
- Allow the excess marinade to drip off and then dredge in a Panko and Parmesan cheese misture, press to coat. Pan fry in olive oil. (see linked recipe for more details).
A Brine for Every Season: The kitchen counter chemistry concept - ice water, a salt, and a sugar. For ice water, you'll need enough liquid to cover completely the meat that you wish to brine. Don't feel confined to just ice water though, feel free to sub out a quart or two for a flavorful stock, just remember to keep enough ice in there to maintain the temperature. For salts I like to use kosher salt or table salt. A nice sugar could be brown sugar, honey, or even just white sugar. Then all you need are some seasonings, if it's the holiday season I like to add some sage and thyme for a touch of earthy comfort but in warmer weather I would consider going with a lighter flavor set balanced around some garlic and parsley.
A Turkey and Brine Union:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 quarts chicken stock
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp dried sage
1 tbsp dried thyme
2 heads garlic broken into individual cloves
2 gallons ice water
14-16 lb turkey, cleaned and innards removed
1. In a medium pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil over medium heat. Put the kosher salt in a large bowl and slowly pour the boiling water over the salt. Stir to blend. Stir in the brown sugar, spices, and garlic.
2. Add the remaining 3 quarts of cool water and the ice to a cooler or bucket large enough to hold the brine and the turkey. Pour the brine and chicken stock over the ice and use a large whisk to blend all of the ingredients.
3. Submerge the turkey, breast side down, in the brine. Make sure the cavity of the bird fills with the liquid as you are submerging it. Cover the cooler and allow the bird to sit in the brine overnight or for about 12 hours.
4. Remove the bird from the brine and dry it thoroughly. Take care to wipe inside the cavity as well. Discard the brine.
Optional: Mix together 1 stick of softened butter, 1 tsp garlic, ½ tsp chopped rosemary, and ½ tsp sage to make a compound butter. Using your hands, loosen to the skin from the breast by gently inserting your fingers between the skin and the flesh. Rub the compound butter underneath the skin. The butter will add extra moisture and richness as the bird roasts.
5. Arrange the turkey in a roasting pan fitted with a rack, cover tightly with aluminum foil. Put on the lower rack of the oven and roast until the internal temperature of the turkey taken from the thickest part of the thigh reads 160 degrees F, time estimates for roasting can often be found on the package (remember – these are estimates, and can call for cooking longer then necessary, this is why a meat thermometer is handy).
6. Remove the foil and turn the heat up to 450 degrees to finish cooking and to crisp the skin. Remove the turkey from the oven to a cutting board or serving platter and tent with foil. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving.