April 2, 2015

Fish Brine

Salt is not just a universal seasoning. It also has a powerful chemical ability to retain juices within fish and meat during cooking, provided you distribute the salt evenly throughout the meat at the proper concentration.

Slathering salt on the outside of a fish or a piece of meat doesn’t work very well, unless you want the distinctive flavor and firm, smooth texture of a cured meat, like corned beef or smoked salmon. At such high concentrations, salt actually causes the proteins in meat to fall apart.

MCAH_BASIC_FishStock_Final_IMG_2223 (2)

The subtler effect of brining is more widely useful. Brining is the technique of soaking meat in a dilute salt solution until the dissolved salt permeates the muscle tissue. You’re shooting for a final concentration of about 0.5% salt throughout the meat—weak compared to curing. The challenge with brining is getting the meat deep in the interior to be just as salty as the meat on the outside. Unless you know what you’re doing, it’s easy to end up with a steep gradient of saltiness.

Modernist brining, akin to cooking sous vide, soaks the meat for long periods (up to 24 hours) in a solution having a salt concentration only slightly higher than that target of 0.5%. The risk of oversalting is eliminated. Brining fish prior to cooking will season it, firm it, and protect its delicate color.

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

Recipe Tags

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MCAH Fish Brine

Tips & Substitutions

  • Warm water dissolves the salt and sugar more quickly. Allow warm brine to cool completely before adding it to the fish.
  • If you have time, decrease the salt to 20 g and the sugar to 15 g, and brine the fish for 24 hours—the effect is even gentler.
  • Brined fish should be cooked immediately.
  • Brining prevents the albumin in salmon from leaching to the surface and masking the beautiful orange-red pigment with an opaque whitish color.
  • Use this brine to make our Sous Vide Salmon in the Kitchen Sink,  Fragrant Sous Vide Salmon or before preparing your favorite fish recipes.
  • We like to add kombu seaweed, toasted coriander seeds, and lemon zest to the brine to add even more flavor. Our Seaweed Fish Brine recipe can be found on p. 133 of Modernist Cuisine at Home.



  1. Aaron Matzkin April 3, 2015 Reply

    I’m pretty sure you guys meant 5%, not .5%. The recipe is correct, but the article is not. Might confuse some folks.

  2. Austin April 21, 2015 Reply

    I was just about to say the same thing. 5g is needed per 1L for a 0.5% solution. Other brine recipes have on the order of 50g per liter though, so yeah, I think 5% is correct.

    • MikeY September 15, 2016 Reply

      I believe it’s saying you want a 0.5% concentration in the fish itself. Obviously not all the salt will be absorbed. This is achieved with a 50g solution for 5 hrs or “if you have more time” a 20g solution for 24 hrs.

  3. Vijay Panikar December 3, 2015 Reply

    We like to add kombu seaweed, toasted coriander seeds, and lemon zest to the brine to add even more flavor. Our Seaweed Fish Brine recipe can be pound on p. 133 of Modernist Cuisine at Home.

    You meant an F, not a P.

  4. Chef Lauren N.St. Lawrence Burgess January 14, 2016 Reply

    I have never sourced a recipe, but always wanted a well balance and usable one from professionals.

  5. toby August 22, 2016 Reply

    can this be used with shrimp

  6. Trudy Edmonds November 17, 2016 Reply

    The 0.5% refers to the final concentration in the flesh, not the starting one, which is indeed 5%.
    Thanks to the website for including metric measures for us non-Americans who prefer a more exact measurement system than the rather random cup and spoon one!

    • Etienne C. June 22, 2018 Reply

      Actually the non-metric system of cups, tablespoons, etc is just as exact as the metric system. It doesn’t mean take a spoon from your silverware drawer or a cup from the cupboard. As an example, a US cup is 236.6 mililiters. The US and British systems have a bureau of standards as rigorous as any other. The problem is MATH! Since the metric system is based on 10’s, math, especially for scaling recipes, is MUCH easier with metric. Same with pounds/ounces versus grams/kilograms.

  7. Kris De Bauw March 7, 2017 Reply

    I don’t think 5% ( even the 2% for 24 hours ) is “slightly higher than that target of 0.5%”.
    It’s 10x higher. So I would think there’s a problem somewhere.

  8. Cooking Kingfish May 3, 2017 Reply

    thank you for information,, i like cooking,,!!!

  9. Tad Stevens January 27, 2018 Reply

    Agree with the other comments. This is a 5% brine solution.

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