Salt has long been used to preserve meat, and brining has the added advantage of increasing the moisture in the meat and making it more tender. The proper proportion of salt and seasoning results in succulent Cornish game hens and tender pork chops. It's important to find the perfect line between brining and pickling. Too much time in the brine will cure your meat and make it tough instead of tender.
What's in the Brine
The standard brine is a combination of 1 tablespoon kosher salt to 1 cup of water -- 1/4 cup to a quart -- plus whatever seasonings and spices you choose. Sugar is added for flavor and to help caramelize the meat during cooking. Use any kind of salt: kosher, sea salt or rock salt. You can use table salt, but reduce the amount a bit. Tap water is fine unless you have very hard water with magnesium deposits, as this will collect on the brining dish and also possibly affect the flavor of the meat.
Cornish Game Hens
In a ceramic, glass or plastic container, dissolve 1/4 cup of salt into 1 quart of very hot water for each hen. Add 1/2 cup of brown sugar, and whisk well. Proportionately, add a half dozen peppercorns, a bay leaf, a pinch or two of garlic salt and scant teaspoons of dried sage and thyme. Mix well and allow the brine to cool in the fridge.
When the brine has chilled, add the hens and return the container to the refrigerator for two hours. Remove the hens. Thoroughly rinse off the salt mixture. Be sure to rinse the birds inside and out. Pat dry, and cook according to your chosen recipe.
Always allow the brine to chill before adding the meat.
Use the same proportions of water, salt and sugar for pork as for the Cornish game hens. Season the water with fresh rosemary, bay leaves, garlic powder, onion powder and peppercorns and a few fennels seeds --take care, they're rather strong. For pork chops, brine for about two hours. For a pork loin or roast, use a guideline of at least an hour per pound of meat. After rinsing off the brining liquid, soak the roast in cold water -- in the fridge -- for another hour to allow the soaked-in salt to retreat.
Discard brining liquid after use to avoid bacterial growth. Don't even think about using it again.
Substitutions and Variations
Although poultry and pork can be brined in the same basic solution, use separate containers for food safety reasons.