I was given the task to cook for fifteen people this 4th of July weekend. They wanted a gourmet meal in the great outdoors. With only a grill as my friend, I wanted to do something different than the usually burgers and brats. Walking through the meat section of the grocery, I saw a beautiful pork loin that would feed at least 20 people and was on sale. The question was, how was I going to cook it camping? Roasting it was difinately out of the question, since all I had was a grill. Just grilling it was out of the question because I would burn the outside before I cooked the inside. After pondering for a few minutes, I decided I need to brine it tonight so it would cook faster and be tender.
A brine, in cooking, is a process similar to marination in which meat is immersed in a liquid before cooking. Whereas a marination is usually a seasoned, often acidic solution, a brine is a salt water solution.
Brining makes cooked meat moister by hydrating the cells of its muscle tissue before cooking, via the process of osmosis, and by allowing the cells to hold on to the water while they are cooked, via the process of denaturation. The brine surrounding the cells has a higher concentration of salt than the fluid within the cells, but the cell fluid has a higher concentration of other solutes. This leads salt ions to diffuse into the cell, whilst the solutes in the cells cannot diffuse through the cell membranes into the brine. The increased salinity of the cell fluid causes the cell to absorb water from the brine via osmosis. The salt introduced into the cell also denatures its proteins. The proteins coagulate, forming a matrix that traps water molecules and holds them during cooking. This prevents the meat from dehydrating.
In other words, a brine will help breakdown the connective tissue of tough meat, decrease the cooking time, and protect the meat from drying out, keeping it moist and tender.
The basic formula for a brine solution is 1 cup of regular table salt (preferably without iodine) to one gallon of water. While under-brining won't have a negative effect, over-brining can be disastrous. The most basic seasoning that you want to add to your brine is a sweetener (sugar, brown or white, agave, molasses, or maple syrup). As a general rule add 1/2 cup of sweetener per gallon of brine. Make sure you make enough brine to completely submerge the meat.
Being The Tea Spot Chef, I added tea to my brine. Tea is actually an amazing tenderizer. Adding tea to my brine made my pork loin especially moist and juicy. I used our Lapsang Souchong because of it reminds me of camping. Although not my favorite tea to drink, one of my favorites to use as an ingredient because of its smoky aroma and rich flavor.
1 bunch tarragon, stemmed & chopped (reserve stems for brine)
1 bunch sage, stemmed & chopped (reserve stems for brine)
1/4 cup canola oil
In large pitcher, combine all the above ingredients except the pork loin. Stir well to dissolve the salt. Add the stems from the tarragon and sage to the solution.
Place the tarragon and sage leaves in a small bowl and cover with canola oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Butterfly the pork loin. Place the the herb mixture lengthwise across the bottom of the butterflied loin. Roll it like a taquito and every few inches tie it up with a piece of twine. Place the pork in a garbage bag, you will probably want to double bag it so it doesn't leak. Pour the brine over the pork, make sure it is completely covered. Tie the garbage bag, place the pork in a cooler and let brine for at least 12-24 hours. Place ice packs in cooler to 'refrigerate' pork.
Over medium-high heat, grill pork on all sides. Cook until a thermometer reads 135-140 degrees. Take off grill and let rest for at least 10 minutes. Remove twine and cut into slices about 1 in thick.
By the way, make sure your grill is stable enough so if is hit by a ravenous dog, the pork doesn't fall. Thank god, only one of the four pieces fell. 50 points if you can you find the dog lurking around the grill in the above picture?