Quickly-cooking chicken breasts and pork chops are great for weeknight meals — except when they turn out as dry and flavorless as shoe leather. Brining has become my saving grace! It's a way of ensuring juiciness and adding flavor, and unlike turkey and corned beef that need to soak for days, these thin cuts will brine in about the time it takes you to make a side salad.
My standard brining solution is 1/4 cup of kosher salt dissolved in 1 quart (4 cups) of warm water. I combine the salt and water in a shallow baking dish and stir it gently until the salt is dissolved before adding the meat. This is enough to brine 4 chicken breasts or pork chops, about 1 1/2 pounds of meat.
I'll also add some aromatics into the brining solution — star anise and cumin seeds, lemon peel, ginger or lemongrass, black peppercorns, smashed cloves of garlic. Whatever I have in the kitchen that sounds good together gets thrown in the brine for an extra boost of flavor.
Then you can just let the brining meat sit while you prepare the rest of the meal. Ideal brining time is about a half an hour, but I've found that even a 15 minute brine makes a difference. The meat cooks up juicier and with more flavor than it does otherwise. You can also brine for longer, but after about 2 hours, the meat can start to get a bit mushy.
Cook the meat any way you like once it's been brined. Grilling, broiling, pan-searing are all fine options with brined cuts.
Do you ever brine your meat before cooking it?
(Image: Emma Christensen)