One of the best ways to get the most from your turkey, and other cuts of meat, is to soak it in a brine, or a salty liquid with herbs and spices. As Samin Nosrat noted in her book Salt Fat Acid Heat,the liquid and salt mixture trigger osmosis in the cells of the meat. This essentially allows you to season the meat from the inside. In this post, we’ll talk about the parts of a brine and the functions they serve. I’ll also share a favored brine recipe I use. In fact, it is the brine I used on the last turkey I made.
The basics of any brine is a liquid and salt. Some people also add sugars and other flavors — a good rule of thumb is to use 3/4 to 1 cup of salt per gallon of water. The salt aids in the osmosis effects, carrying the flavors you select into the meat. You can experiment with any manner of flavor combinations. For this brine, I decided to go back to cinnamon and saffron, since they made my Cinnamon and Saffron Braised Sausages so tasty.
In addition to the salt, herbs and spices, many people add sugar to many brines. The type of sugar you use can affect the final flavor of your dish, but it really helps the meat brown during the cooking process, thanks to the Maillard Reaction. In short, the Maillard Reaction is a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars when subjected to heat. This is responsible for the delicious blackened marks on grilled steaks or perfectly seared fish.
Once you have finished selecting your herbs, spices, and sugars; you can choose other flavors you want to add. I decided to go with garlic and onions, since they are such universally appreciated flavors. I also added a lemon to lend a bit of brightness to the brine.
Once you have all the components mixed, you are ready to carefully place your turkey (or other meat) to the brine. Then cover and place in the fridge at least overnight. You can keep the brine a couple of days to let the flavors really penetrate.
Cinnamon Saffron Brine:
- 2 cups salt
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1 gram saffron
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
- 8-12 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 lemon, washed and cut in half
- In a large container with a lid, add two to three gallons of cool water.
- Stir in salt, sugar, cinnamon, saffron, and bay leaves. Keep stirring until the sugar and salt are dissolved and the water turns yellow from the saffron.
- Carefully add the turkey (or other meat), then add the lemon, cloves of garlic, and onion.
- Cover and place in fridge at least over night.
- Remove from fridge and rinse the meat, removing excess exterior salt.
- Roast or cook as normal.