When faced with a tough piece of meat, Wolfgang Ban of Seäsonal in New York City turns to a basic brine: He mixes 5 percent kosher salt, then adds in flavor builders such as garlic cloves, white and black peppercorns, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, caraway seeds, lemon zest and fresh herbs, for example.
To maximize flavor, we'd recommend toasting any spices in a dry pan before adding them to the brine. This brings out their natural oils, which will permeate the flesh, letting the flavor remain long after the protein or vegetables have dried off.
For particularly tough cuts of meat, such as pork shoulder or a beef shank, reduce the kosher salt to 4 percent, and then add .5 percent of "pink salt" (sodium nitrate), which breaks down the muscle, adds flavor and gives the meat a slightly pink color (it's what makes a piece of beef into corned beef and not pot roast). For one liter of water, for example, you would use 40 grams of kosher salt and five grams of pink salt.
And if you've got something really big to brine, the solution can be doubled or tripled to make enough to completely submerge any meat, fish or vegetable.
To learn more, read "Wolfgang Ban's Secret Weapon."
Wolfgang Ban's Basic Brine
Recipe adapted from Wolfgang Ban, Seäsonal, New York, NY
Yield: 1 gallon
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
1 gallon water
1 cup kosher salt
Small handful of aromatics such as garlic, onions, bay leaves, peppercorns, fresh herbs and strips of orange or lemon zest
In a large pot, combine half the water and the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring until all the salt has evaporated. Remove from heat and add the remaining water and allow to cool completely before using.