Thursday, April 9, 1998
Stand by for the latest breaking news on the edible frontier: The haute-est of haute, the current culinary cause celebre, the most bandied-about cocktail party repartee overheard among the gatherings of gourmands for 1998 is "What's my brine?"
You heard it right--it's so old it's finally come back into style. Good ol' NaCl, sodium chloride, the stuff that you can still find at the supermarket for under a buck is back in style. And when you mix up some salt with water and throw a pork chop in it, and then you get around to cooking it after it's good and soaked, it actually tastes like something.
It's an interesting insight into the proclivities of human nature that we're willing to jack up our salt intake in order to shun the odious fat content found within formerly succulent cuts of meat--namely pork. Kurt DeGuzman, chef at Rio Grill, swears by it. "The only fat that appears on a loin of pork is on the outside--there's no marbling, like with beef. The fat has been bred out. So to get flavor and juiciness in, you use a brine."
DeGuzman has some fun with the whole idea. He infuses star anise, cinnamon, allspice and lemon into a salty, sweet brine for pork, usually using about a cup of Kosher salt to a gallon of water. Then, the whole osmosis thing happens. (No, not like when you used to fall asleep with your head on your books in study hall; salt, unlike knowledge, is a diffusible chemical that will try to even itself out in such a solution). Meaning that the salt will seep into the meat, along with whatever other flavoring agents you might have thought to throw in.
Stokes Adobe Chef Brandon Miller uses lavender, honey and maple syrup in the brine he makes for pork. And he points out that it's the same principle, only in reverse, when you're using a dry brine. "Like when you're curing salmon with salt, for gravlax, or for smoking. You're drawing the moisture out to help preserve it."
"It's the same thing when you're curing duck, for confit," Miller adds.
"Salting and pressing it draws the moisture out of the skin and is what makes it crisp." That, and then slowly cooking it in its own rendered fat, as in the wonderfully classic dish, cassoulet, also on the menu at Stokes.
"Salting is one of the oldest methods of preserving food," continues Miller. "And, if we didn't have refrigeration, we'd be packing our confit in crocks of the rendered fat. That way it's always on hand, whenever the king comes around."
Just remember, you heard it here first.
Did somebody say 'spring?' To pleasure all hedonistic, down-and-out would-be sun worshippers who are sure it will never get here, a toast will be raised to the end of a very long and arduous winter on Saturday, April 18th at the Steinbeck Wine Country Spring Open House, 11am to 4 pm. Mariachi, jazz, bagpipes and barbecue are all on the menu as seven MoCo tasting rooms put their own twist on the celebration. And the cool news is, it's a complimentary twist, at that. Chalone, Jekel, Cloninger, Paraiso Springs, Scheid, Smith and Hook, and Monterey Vineyards invite you as their guest to sample hors d'oeuvres and taste the wines, with a lot more fun stuff thrown in, just for fun. For a map or more information, phone 678-0300. cw