It all started, as so many things do, with an episode of Saturday Kitchen. Ben Tish was on, doing his barbecue thing, talking about brines and marinades and various other concoctions to get the most out of your meat. I was half watching, half polishing off a hearty (in the attack kind of way) portion of eggy bread, thinking that it sounded kind of interesting but would probably be a bit of a faff and who really has time?
My London based, student of a brother was simultaneously half watching, half devouring the last crumbs of the previous night’s kebab, thinking that it sounded like the perfect way to eat up a lazy afternoon.
Don’t get me wrong, we had brined before. This was not our first brine. But, previously, it had been saved for significant occasions, such as using an Earl Grey, salt water mix in a favourite Pitt Cue recipe for a whole smoked duck – worth buying the book for alone. This time, however, Tish was using bavette steak and seemed to be suggesting that it’s a good method for everyday use, to maximise the potential of cheaper cuts. Music to the ears of Alex, a medical student with a liking for both discovering new cuts (I guess it’s an anatomy thing) and saving money.
Still a little sceptical, eventually I decided to allow Alex to cook for me while I drove down to London. And the boy did good. He used a makeshift version of the recipe he had watched on TV and the meat, which can be notoriously tough, was both tender and incredibly well seasoned, with a great crust. Fortunately, the science of brining is hotly debated so, by way of an explanation, I can say that it’s something to do with either osmosis or the salt breaking down proteins in the meat that results in a juicier cut, and leave it there.
The other good news is that, despite initial misgivings, the whole process is quick, painless and pretty fun. Here’s a rough guide to how to do it:
- Make your basic brine: This is water, salt and sugar. Of course, the internet disagrees about the ideal ratios. It’ll differ based on your dish and the required outcome but somewhere between two to three times as much salt to sugar should be fine and then add water until it feels/tastes right. I’m not precise.
- Spice it up: Whether you use spices, tea, herbs, honey, oils or whatever, this is the fun part. Again, guess work is absolutely my preferred method. Once happy with your medley, submerge the meat and cover with Clingfilm
- Set a timer: This is the important bit and probably even worth a Google. Obviously, if you’re just playing around with a thin cut of tender meat, or fish even, then it could be a half hour job, but if you’re tackling a turkey or similar, you may want to reserve an overnight spot in the fridge.
And that’s all there is to it. I’m still getting to grips with it and there have been a number of misses scattered among the hits, but it’s an interesting way to really change the dynamics of your meat. Obviously, if you don’t feel like stabbing in the dark, you can buy barbecue books – Pitt Cue klaxon – and I’ll certainly be flicking through Ben Tish’s new release to see if he has any decent brine waves.