Monday, March 7, 2011

Mother Brine

St. Patrick's day is only a proper brisket brining away - thus today's process will be focused on one of my favorite concoctions to have laying around - the mother brine.  Brining has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance lately, usually around Thanksgiving in the US.  However, most folks still don't think much of having a beautiful bucket of brine hanging in their fridge, filled with meats and ready to produce delicious meal after delicious meal.

However, lots of meat that you buy commercially (especially things like pork loins and such that are completely sealed in plastic), are pumped with some dubious blend often called a brine.  It helps maintain a decent color and preserves meats that are often pretty old.  Hence, if you eat meat, you should steer clear of commercial brines (usually by knowing the person who raised your meat), but do not fear your own!

Mother Brine
- 2 L / a sloshing 2 quarts of cold water
- 275 g / 1.25 c kosher salt*
- 225 g / 1 c sugar**
- Assorted spices (as always, creative but restrained, peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves, juniper berries for some starters)
Put your water in a non-reactive pot on the stove and heat.  You can add everything in at once, just give it a few stirs while heating to be sure your sugar does not burn to the bottom.  Eventually, your mixture will come to a light boil, and all sugar and salt should be nicely dissolved in solution.  Take it off the stove and pour off into your brining bucket***.

Now this is important, allow your brine to cool to at least 7º C / 45º F before you toss anything into it.  Otherwise you will lightly cook your meat and things will be far less pleasant while eating.

- A brine is great for those who collect less-common bits of animals.  If you are trying to build your collection of something like veal tails, you may find it difficult to get a great number at once from your meat purveyor.  A brine is great for this - throw them in as you get them. I have a nice brisket, a few chicken wings, hearts, thighs and gizzards in mine. 
 - Meats should be submerged completely in the brine, depending on how heavy your bits are, some might float and peek out of the brine (like the cheeky chicken wing in my picture above).  Do not allow this, as the bits outside the brine can sour and ruin everything.  I weigh my parts down with an upside-down lid.
- As St. Patrick's day is soon approaching, I would encourage all of you to make this brine today, buy yourself a beautiful beef brisket and get it brining.  You will have wonderful corned beef by the 17th.  NB: It will not be bright pink like you are used to unless you add sodium nitrate to your brine, which is unnecessary.  Enjoy the darker colour of the meat.
 - I suggest changing your brine every 2 weeks.  In our pathogen-obsessed world, many would worry about this.  The above brine is pretty damn salty.   So, do what thou wilt.  However, don't give in to those who insist on middling brining periods of 1 or 2 days.  This is a waste of good salt and sugar, and is probably why so many people debate the efficacy of a brine.  Also, you should probably keep it in the fridge.
 * Because of the large quantity needed, you ought not use anything fancy here.  Also, some folks will add some saltpeter or sodium nitrate to their brine, but such an addition seems like it would harsh the mellow of a wonderful brine.

** Use whatever kind of sugar you would like.  I like brown because of its smooth properties, but white, or whatever you have on hand will also work.

*** Use something non-reactive here, and something that you don't need for another purpose regularly.  As an instructive bit here, I am currently using my slow-cooker insert, which is perhaps not the best choice.  Try to find some kind of receptacle that can take on a nice brine patina, becoming an 'old friend' of sorts through years of use.


  1. what to do after the brine to actually cook the beast - let me know quick, i may do this for the St. Paddy's day beast!

  2. I really like this post, but I have a question. You say to throw out your brine every 2 weeks, right? So, I'm picturing a "mother brine" as something you can use for a very long time, like mother of vinegar. So do you add a little of the previous batch in every successive batch to keep the flavor? Or am I misunderstanding the concept?