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Zuni pork chop brine QUESTION: was I growing something cooty?

wet brine of pork loin chops, from the Zuni cookbook . . .
it was DELICIOUS, but the brine was very gloppy and thick after 4 days in the fridge
and I wonder if that is normal. Or...was something growing?
Nobody got sick from our grilled chops - which I rinsed and patted dry, per instructions - but I was a little curious about the viscous brine. It's water, salt, sugar, chiles and bay leaf. I added star anise, which was fabulous - the flavors of the aromatics are very subtle in the meat.
It was in the fridge for four days; Zuni recommends 2-4 days of this wet brine.



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  1. 2 to 4 days seems a bit long to brine pork chops. I wouldn't take it past a day or so. I've brined pork crown roasts for 4-5 days but that's a big piece of meat.

    I doubt that anything bad was happening in the brine. The salt concentration is too high for bacterial growth. It draws fluid out of the meat so it may have changed composition over the 4 days.

    1. thx for the reply
      when you brine your pork crown roast, does the brine turn slick?

      1 Reply
      1. re: pitu

        No it doesn't. It does become a little discolored and cloudy but not slimy in feel.

      2. While I am a huge fan of salt brining chicken, I am ani-wet brine for most types of meat. I really don't like the mushy consistency. If you buy good fatty pork like berkshire pork chops, you dont need to mess with brining. The pork speaks for itself. Fairway sells berkshire chops for seven bucks a pound, amazing deal and the best chops around.

        1. I was pretty pleased with the results of the wet brine process -- this is the first time for me. The meat was quality organic freerange et al and might have been perfectly gorgeous without the bath.
          BUT I have to say, with the brining the texture was great - not mushy - and the subtle chipotle/anise flavor rocked.

          There's no acid (citrus, vinegar etc) in the soak, which might certainly deteriorate the texture...

          1. it would be interesting to compare the chops, brined and not brined, side by side.

            3 Replies
            1. re: josh L

              I did this experiment last year when the butcher gave me 2 Boston Butts for pulled pork - could swear I only asked for one.
              Anyway, the consensus on identical products was that the non-brined one was better.
              I was surprised.

              1. re: Mila

                Repeat this experiment with two pork tenderloins, and I think you will reach a diferent conclusion. Boston butts have lots of fat, and therefore cook up moist and don't need brining. With the lean tenderloins, however, brining is a sure-fire improvement.

                1. re: pikawicca

                  Thanks pikawicca, that makes perfect sense. I will try it out on tenderloin or chops which can dry out quickly.

            2. Cook's Illustrated has performed copious comparisons of brined and not-brined meats - chicken, pork, turkey - and concluded that brining improves taste and texture. My own experiments confirm their results.

              1. but they use supermarket quality meat. most mass mkt pork in the usa is bred to be lean, you know the other white meat so you have to brine it or it will be dry, like a chicken breast. berkshire pork is not lean and has a wonderful clean taste thats already juicy. i would never brine berkshire pork nor a heritage turkey for that matter.

                1. FTR I don't buy any meat from supermarkets, I buy directly from the farmer. I have brined heritage turkeys and I know it improved the flavor.

                  I don't know why you're continuing to argue this. If you don't like brined meat, don't do it.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: cheryl_h

                    i'm not arguing w/ you, just discussing the merits of brining vs not brining.

                  2. I brine supermarket-discount-cheap-chops, but only for a short while (2-4 HOURS not days). I've never seen the brine turn thick...but brine is an unfriendly environment in general for microorganisms...makes me wonder what else was going on in there. Denatured proteins from the pork blood leaking out of the chops? Fats breaking? Collagen unfurling?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Hungry Celeste

                      The poster mentioned in a separate thread that the brine solution was very weak, hence the long brining time.

                    2. We discussed this exact recipe on another thread:

                      In that thread I pointed out that the brine in this recipe is extremely weak, hence the long soak. I also said that a long brine might be useful if it takes a long time for the other flavors in the brine (star anise) to penetrate the meat.

                      In hindsight, though, I don't think it takes that long for the star anise et al to penetrate the meat. I'd recommend a full strength brine and a 1-4 hour soak. I would also grind the star anise and another ingredients in the brine to speed up the process.

                      1. I have to point out that the 2-4 day soaking time was exactly what the genius behind the Zuni cookbook said to do. First time out, I'm not messing with Judy Rodgers, the woman who brought us that famous "dry brine" Zuni chicken for pete's sake!

                        For pork chops and roasts it is a weak wet brine (salt and sugar in tablespoons, not cups) with aromatics (chipotle and star anise for me.)

                        In the other thread we discussed that brine is usually as much salt as the water will hold. This is not *that* kind of brine.

                        I would have gone with 2 days, but social circumstances put off the grilling for 4 days. I was really happy with the results.

                        But Celeste, I too wonder what else was happening in that baggie full of meat . . .

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: pitu

                          Pitu, I got out my copy of Zuni and read up the directions for brining. You're absolutely right about the strength of the brine solution and time. But I'm a bit puzzled by why Judy Rodgers does it this way. It's certainly not the usual practice. She mentions that for certain meats, she uses an even weaker brine solution. I just don't understand the reasoning.

                          1. re: cheryl_h

                            Because a weaker brine allows you to soak longer, and get other flavors into the meat. See my link above.

                            1. re: Darren72

                              You can make a stronger brine solution and reduce the time required. Osmosis simply depends on the pressure difference across the permeable membrance. Stronger brine = higher pressure = shorter time. Other flavors will be diffused across the membrane with the salt solution.

                              I don't get why Rodgers wants to do it this way, unless she's not just brining but also curing the meat which does take time. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense since curing takes a lot longer than a couple of days.

                              1. re: cheryl_h

                                Yes. That is *exactly* what I wrote above and what I wrote in the separate thread that I linked to above. I speculated that she wants a long brine because she wants to add other flavors in the brine, which take a long time to penetrate the meat (for example, some of the ingredients in her brine are solid -- not dissolved in the water). Again, as I wrote above, it isn't clear that any of the flavors in this particular recipe take 2-4 days to penetrate.

                          1. I make a sauerbraten that marinates for 10 days (old JOC)! I've never had it turn thick or slimey, and would toss it out if it did. Sounds like some kind of bacterial contamination to me.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: pikawicca

                              I think sauerbraten which is usually marinated in an acid solution, is a different kind of curing from simple brine. I've brined meat for up to 5 days without a problem, but I've never used such a weak brine solution as the Zuni cookbook specifies.