Is there a best brine to use before cooking your choice of bird? There are multiple brine concoctions that I like to use, but before we go into that, let’s talk about why brining is a good idea in the first place.
Brining is certainly not crucial, but it can really help your end product, especially if you are looking to do your bird it’s due justice. Basically, overcooking poultry can result in dry meat. Brining is a way to ensure that the meat retains its natural juices, while at the same adding some moisture and seasoning from the inside out. The basis of a brine is as simple as salt dissolved in water. When submerged in a salt solution for a time, the meat takes on some of the water, and the salt allows it to be retained. Ultimately, after cooking, the meat will be juicer, tastier, and less likely to become dried out.
So why do some brines include sugar? Sugar is just an added flavor bonus that can also help provide a nice color later in the cooking process. Brown sugar is particularly effective in adding color, and for a darker hue, a touch of molasses can also help.
The general rule for a brine - use just enough water to completely cover your bird, if it wants to float, use a plate or something similar to keep it submerged. You should aim for 4 tablespoons of salt to 1 quart of water. If using sugar as well, add 1 tablespoon per quart of water. It is important to make sure the salt and sugar are completely dissolved before adding your bird. You can do this by starting with hot water, stir to dissolve then top up with cold water. The brine should not be any warmer than around 40°F when the protein is added.
I find overnight is an ideal amount of time to brine a bird, but I would shoot for at least 4 hours and no more than 12. You should also not use any kind of reactive metal container to hold the brine, stainless steel is ok, but to be safe, I just always use plastic or ceramic.
So, now for the fun flavor additions. Soaking your bird in a brine with the addition of spices and seasoning will allow the bird to absorb some of those flavors as well. Here is a list of additional flavors you can add to your brines for a variety of different birds, feel to free to mix it up and add any number of varieties. The most important thing to remember is to follow the ratios mentioned above.
Turkey – Bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, garlic, onion
Duck – Cloves, orange, soy sauce
Chicken – Bay leaf, lemon, garlic, turmeric, ginger, onion, cardamom, chilis
Wild game, like Quail, Goose, Chukar and Pheasant – Rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorn
As you can see, brining takes very little effort, so with the addition of a little planning and some wait time you will get a much juicer bird and will likely make brining a regular part of how you cook poultry.