Fish Brine

Recipe • April 2, 2015

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.

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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

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.
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