Why boil a brine before using?
The Chez Panisse "Cafe Cookbook" brine recipe doesn't call for one to boil the salt/spice mixture before cooling it and submerging the meat, but many brine recipes and products do. I can't find scientific explanation for this variation in technique in McGee or any of the cookbooks that litter my house. Does anyone know why some chefs boil their brine and some don't?
Boiling and cooling the brine adds many hours to what is already a fairly long process, so if that can be omitted without loss of flavor, well, great.
My own tests lead me to believe that the flavors of the spices actually tend to cook out and disappear during boiling. In the no-boil Chez Panisse recipe the flavors of bay, clove and thyme come through loud and clear in the roasted pork/chicken.
I'm quite fond of a pork brine from the Dean & DeLuca cookbook that calls for boiling. The brine includes bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves, and a cinnamon stick so it's easy to see why it needs to be simmered before using.
I don't find that it adds all that much time to the process. First of all, this brine only simmers for five minutes. After I've removed it from the heat I transfer the brine to a bowl (just so it won't be in contact with the still-hot pan) and put in a zip-lock baggie full of ice cubes. I usually have to fill the baggie a second time, but I have room-temp brine in no more than ten minutes.
Right - the heat helps dissolve the salt and sugar and coaxes the flavor from the other additions. I usually heat 1/4 of the total amount of water to be used with all the salt sugar and flavorings, heat for 5 minutes, then add it to the rest of the plain, cold water.
The Zuni pork brine has been wildly sucessful for me, and I don't see the point of boiling all the water. I *do* tend to use hot water from the kettle to dissolve the salt/sugar, but the rest is plain old NYC tap water . . . and star anise, bay, and chiles.
"Boiled water, as is known, loses its good taste. However, as this change is brought about by the loss of air during boiling, the flavor can be restored and air again introduced if the water is shaken in a partly filled jar or bottle, or beaten vigorously for a short time with an egg beater."
or of course if the issue is contaminated water supply . . . that's a whole different deal.