Culinary trends may come and go (butter coffee, ramen burgers, foam), but when it comes to a simple, surefire way to add moisture and flavor to proteins, such as poultry or meat, brining has stood the test of time. “It’s a traditional process that’s connected to history and culture, of building and layering flavor in meat, that people have done over centuries,” says Hotel Jerome executive chef Rob Zack. “It’s one of the things that fascinates me about cooking.”
Zack knows of what he speaks. For the classic, melt-in-your-mouth pastrami he uses for the house-smoked pastrami sandwiches offered at the Jerome’s J-Bar, he regularly undertakes a weeklong process that begins with “wet brining” 50- to 100-pound batches of 7X beef, a high-fat, Japanese breed of beef from Hotchkiss, for five days in a simple solution of water, salt, sugar, pickling spice, pink salt, dark brown sugar, honey and garlic. Once that’s done, he rubs the meat with a coriander-black pepper mix, lets it dry out overnight and then smokes it over applewood chips. “We’ll never be able to take it off the menu,” he says. “People love it.”
More commonly, wet brining (versus dry brining, which involves rubbing the surface of a protein with salt, or sugar, and seasonings and letting it rest in the refrigerator for some time before cooking) is used to improve a protein’s ability to retain moisture and also helps to tenderize the meat.
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