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Aug 11, 2014 12:29 PM

If I add other flavorings, how much salt do I eliminate in a marinade?

I was watching America's Test Kitchen (ATK) the other day and Christopher Kimball advised that ATK had concluded that you only need two strengths of marinade: a half a cup of table salt to one gallon of water and one cup of table salt to one gallon of water. The lower concentration was good for turkey because of the six to twenty-four hour immersion time and the higher concentration was good for everything else, which required less immersion time.

However, the recipe that they were doing called for a fifty/fifty solution of table salt and granulated sugar. They were creating much less than a gallon of marinade (for boneless, skinless, flavorless chicken breasts) and the ratio of salt/sugar was inconsistent with what Mr. Kimball had espoused, although close.

So my question is this: If you want to brine something and add in some other flavors, should you reduce the amount of salt? For example, it appears that (more or less), in the above recipe, sugar was substituted for the salt on a 1:1 basis. But I thought that the experts said that salt was the only compound that had the ability to permeate deep into the fowl, meat, or fish--something to do with osmosis. All other flavorings merely "hitch a ride" on the salt molecules.

So, if I start out with a salt to water ratio of 1:16 (one cup salt to 16 cups of water), and I want to flavor the meat with sugar, allspice, cloves, tarragon, pepper, vinegar, and ground unicorn horn, how much salt do I eliminate? Or am I looking at it wrong? Do I have to have the same 1:16 ratio of salt to get all the other flavors into the meat? If so, I do not eliminate ANY salt, just add in other flavors. So what should I do?

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  1. I think part of the problem is that you are confusing the two similar, yet different, terms. Typically a brine is used to tenderize/change the texture of meat, particularly fowl. Marinades are usually much shorter soaks to add flavor and to tenderize (but not change the texture greatly) other meats such as flank steak.

    From Epicurious

    "A variation on a marinade is a brine. Rather than combining fat and acid, this is simply a salty liquid. Food soaked in a brine absorbs the liquid and the salt, adding moisture and flavor."

    "A marinade is a liquid mixture of fat, such as oil (for flavor and moisture), and acid, such as vinegar (for penetration and some tenderizing) that flavors food during a precooking soak."

    1 Reply
    1. re: gourmanda

      It is my understanding that other ingredients in a brine don't contribute all that much flavor to the meat but what they DO contribute is carried along with the salt. If there was no salt at all, the rest of the marinade wouldn't do anything except tenderize, if it was acidic. As far as the OP's confusion is concerned, you are correct in pointing out the distinction. If the OP is brining chiefly for moisture in the meat, the amount of salt should remain constant regardless of additional seasonings. It would help to know what the OP is making. If it's pork chops or chicken breasts, brining is okay. If it's beef, no. Marinades are good regardless of what species of animal is being prepared.