AI: To Brine or Not To Brine?
With the holiday season upon us, it’s time to start thinking about preparing meals – for those doing the preparing, anyway… the rest of us just need to sew some elastic into the tops of our trousers. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, New Years, and the multitude of other winter holidays are traditionally spent around a giant feast, which every host does differently (and if you tell them about your differing traditions, you’re likely to be looked at like you’re insane for doing it that way).
This Thursday, November 26 is Thanksgiving in the US. The standard Thanksgiving meal includes turkey, stuffing, potatoes cooked 5 different ways, green bean casserole, dinner rolls and cranberry sauce. Some people do ham. Some do faux turkey (tofurkey, if you will). Some pre-cook everything. Some baste their bird up to the last minute.
As someone who has never hosted a Thanksgiving dinner or had any other reason to cook a whole turkey, I’m new to the idea of brining, or soaking the uncooked animal in a saltwater solution for hours before cooking. My cousin Emily (who happens to be hosting the dinner we’re attending on Thursday) showed me a link to a Food & Wine article from July which discusses whether or not brining meat is necessary.
According to the article’s expert opinion, Harold McGee, brining actually hydrates the meat. “He explained that while a high concentration of salt has a desiccating effect, which is helpful for curing meat, the small amount of salt used to season food has a hydrating effect: Salt helps the cells hold on to water.” Author of the article, Oliver Schwaner-Albright, tested McGee’s hypothesis by cooking multiple types of meat 2 different ways – 1 cut of each was salted in advance (like in brining) and the 1 was salted just before cooking. The consensus was varied among his dinner guests, depending on which type of meat they were sampling. Chicken was apparently much more succulent when salted in advance and the lamb shanks were richer when prepared the same way. Conversely, steak and pork loin were both considered better when seasoned just before cooking.
I know there are several of you out there who are passionate about food, and the preparation thereof. So… What do you think about seasoning? Do you do it in advance or as you make the meal? How do you prepare holiday meals? Do you have any special versions of traditional holiday foods that you’ve become known for? Will you cook for me? What time should I plan on arriving?
The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.