I’ve already posted a technique on how to make a basic brine, but just like all techniques and recipes I post, I don’t want you to stop at “the basic”. A brine can be your blank canvas, and you can paint a different picture whenever you’d like. Different foods pair better together than others, and you can use those natural food combinations to make your brined foods even better.
How to make a flavored brine
Your brine is always going to have three major components, salt, sweetener, and water. After that, you can be as crazy and wild as you’d like. I generally think of the additional flavors I can add in three buckets:
- Herbs & Spices: Fresh herbs and spices can add a lot of flavor to your brine, and are generally pretty easy to work with. What to add? You can think of what you normally use a flavors in the finished dish. If you’re cooking with Mexican flavors, add some cumin or chili powder, French or Italian, maybe herb de provence, or basil. Generally I’ll add fresh or dried herbs directly to the brine. You can do the same with spices, or give them a light toasting in a dry pan to extract a bit more flavor.
- Aromatics: Aromatics are generally vegetables like onions, garlic, carrots. But you can also add any others. Ginger, fennel, lemon grass, peppers all come to mind, and can bring a unique flavor to the mix. You can either add these raw to the brine or sauté them to further develop their flavor.
- Liquids: This is a pretty broad category (that could include your sweetener, by adding honey, maple syrup, etc), and I usually go to things like mustard, soy sauce, fruit juices. But again, you can add anything that you think will enhance the final product.
How to pick your flavors
When I’m thinking about what to use for a flavored brine, I always go back to natural food combinations. I know many of my friends profess a lack of knowledge or understanding of what these combinations are, but we come across them every day. For example, think about pizzas you see on the menus:
- Ham and pineapple
- Basil and tomato
- Feta and olives
- Sausage and peppers
Ok….ok…maybe you think I go to nutty pizza shops, maybe not, but I think you get the idea. All around us, in restaurants and cafes, chefs have already done pairings, we just need to observe and copy. We’ve all seen rosemary lemon chicken on the menu…why not put rosemary and lemon zest in your brine?