Its use before cooking offers culinary, gastronomic and dietary advantages

Common salt (sodium chloride) is one of the highest purity culinary products. There are different variants, depending on how they are obtained and used. We have rock salts or mineral salts such as black salt (gray in color, containing sulfur compounds that give it a characteristic flavor) or pink Himalayan salt (with iron and manganese oxides). In another group are salts from salt mines such as fine salt, which is the most widely used, or coarse salt, used in “salt” cooking and curing processes. Fleur de sel (lamellar crystals that float in water), Maldon salt (with flake morphology), Guérande salt (very rich in trace elements), Hawaiian black salt (with black lava ) or Hawaiian red salt (with volcanic clays). There are even synthetic salts (such as Soda-lo®), very fast-dissolving microspheres that give an intense salty taste; They are used in the kitchen for hypertensives.

The culinary use of salt dates back some five thousand years, when salting began to be used to preserve fish, meat, vegetables or mushrooms. More recent are the “salt” cooking techniques. And now a new application has been found that is revolutionizing the world of meat and fish textures: baths in brine prior to cooking.

The presence of salt in the water increases the interaction between the proteins and the liquid that surrounds them; this causes the incorporation of more water to the protein network or a greater solubility of the proteins, in certain cases. This phenomenon is proportional to the salt concentration and is known as salt solubilization (salting in). When reaching a high salt concentration, the opposite process occurs: the interactions between proteins are greater and the incorporated water leaves the structure. It is called saline precipitation (salting out).

Brine baths prior to cooking therefore offer several advantages, especially for professional chefs. They allow regular salting – this avoids having to add salt during cooking, which is always a subjective decision of the cook, who tends to oversalt. They make service easier (because you don’t have to salt the dish). They soften the texture. They improve the appearance of some products, such as red meat. And they make the preparation of the dish more reproducible. Likewise, they allow us to reduce the salt content in preparations for hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants or our own home. One more tool to achieve a healthier diet.

In 2016, Victor Quintillà, from the Lluerna restaurant near Barcelona, ​​together with researchers from the Food Campus of the University of Barcelona, ​​carried out a study with the purpose of analyzing the effects of this technique on cooking. of chicken (breast) and mackerel. The results were announced within the framework of the Barcelona Gastronomic Forum. They observed that immersion in brine increased the mass of the food and that it lost less liquid (therefore, it was better preserved) before cooking. A softer texture was also achieved. They concluded that the best brine concentrations to incorporate water through saline solubilization would be (for chicken and mackerel) between 7 and 10 percent. As for recommended bath times: 20 minutes for chicken breast; 50 minutes for the suckling pig; 2.5 hours for lean beef; 8 minutes for sea bass, monkfish and hake; 7 minutes for the prawns, and only 1 minute for the squid.

Joan Roca, from El Celler de Can Roca, suggests bathing 10 percent salt in water for 1 hour for pork cheek and chicken breast; 15 minutes for beef entrecôte; 15 minutes for sea bass, hake, salmon or whole sole, and 5 minutes for sardine. British chef Josh Eggleton uses brines with rosemary, lemon peel, cloves and other flavorings. And Salvador Brugués, an expert in low-temperature cooking, uses low-concentrated salt baths (between 2 and 3 percent) for 24 hours, 48 ​​hours or even a week, depending on the product. It also impregnates the brine by applying a vacuum, thereby simulating existing industrial processes.

This new use of brines is also reaching homes. This is shown on social networks, where we can find recipes like this one: submerge a whole chicken in water with 10 percent salt for 12 hours and then bake it in the oven until golden brown. According to the comments, spectacular textures and flavors are achieved.