First steps in equilibrium brining

Equilibrium-brined pork tenderloinOne of the terms that came up frequently right after Modernist Cuisine was released was “equilibrium brining,” but it took me a long time to fully internalize the concept and get around to trying it out.

Traditional brining involves placing meat in a relatively concentrated salt solution for a short length of time. You have to make sure you remove it after the meat has absorbed enough of the salt to have an effect, but not enough to become unpalatable. It can be pretty hit-and-miss. Equilibrium brining, in contrast, involves first determining how much salt you want in the meat, then calculating how strong the brine needs to be to hit that target. I assumed it would be complicated, but in fact it’s quite simple: it relies on the fact that meat is mostly made up of water, so if you base your target salt content on the combined weight of meat and water, given enough time, the meat will absorb only enough salt to come into equilibrium with the surrounding liquid.

I’ve tried the technique twice now. The first time, I aimed for 0.5% salt in the finished product, which didn’t taste sufficiently seasoned to me. I couldn’t tell whether it had actually had any effect. So for the second time, I bumped the salt up to 1%, the upper limit of what Modernist Cuisine recommends for brined-but-not-cured products. I took a pork tenderloin, covered it with water, and weighed the two together. Then I calculated 1% of that weight in salt, removed the pork, dissolved the salt in the water, and returned the pork to this brine for a little over 9 hours. (Modernist Cuisine recommends 12 hours of brining, followed by an 8-hour resting period, but I hadn’t planned far enough in advance. By contrast, using the more traditional method, Charcuterie recommends about 2 hours in a brine that’s a little over 5% salt.)

The resulting meat (conventionally pan-roasted, and served with green beans, potato gratin and a sour-cherry gastrique) was juicy and well-seasoned, without any of the “hammy” flavour that sometimes occurs with brined pork, and the thinner parts were no saltier than the thicker parts. This is definitely a technique that has loads of potential.

For more on equilibrium brining, check out Jason Molinari’s blog posts on the subject, especially as it pertains to cured meats.

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