Brine is a super charged flavor delivery vehicle that can work wonders on pork. I consider a brine to be the ultimate marinade and will always use one on tenderloin if I have planned far enough in advance.
In its most basic form a brine is simply salty water. In order to balance out the saltiness it is common to add something sweet to the brine such as sugar, molasses or honey. A great brine that I love to use on pork tenderloins is as follows:
- 1 quart water
- ¼ cup Kosher salt
- 3 Tbs maple syrup (the real stuff, not flavored high fructose corn syrup)
- If you don’t have maple syrup on hand then substitute with 1/4 cup of brown sugar.
Stir well to make sure all of the salt dissolves then pour this into a gallon zip top plastic bag and add the tenderloin. Place the bag into a shallow dish (in case you have a hole in it) and let the brine do its magic while it rests in the refrigerator. How long the tenderloin needs to brine is driven in part by how salty you like your food. At a minimum the meat needs to brine for three hours to allow it to fully penetrate the tenderloin. If you let this sit for twenty four hours it will probably be too salty for your tastes.
This is also a great pork loin brine or pork chop brine. Brine a pork loin for at least four hours. Pork chops are usually good after two hours. If you wanted to make a cider brined pork loin or something similar all you would need to do is replace the water in the brine recipe above with an equal amount of apple cider.
In addition to bringing flavor, salt relaxes the proteins with meat and enables them to retain moisture. That is, salt helps meat stay juicy. In order for salt to work this magic it must first dissolve and then pass through the meat via osmosis. The beauty of a brine is that the salt is already dissolved and can start going to work immediately. Contrast this with applying salt in a rub where the solid salt must first be dissolved by a thin layer of liquid at the meat’s surface. Brines are also highly efficient at delivering other flavors while the salt is relaxing those proteins.
Sometimes the only time I get to work on dinner is right after work. If I want to plan ahead for tomorrow’s dinner and it involves brining a tenderloin I will just cut the amount of salt in the brine in half and brine the tenderloin overnight. This works pretty good for me.
After the tenderloin has brined make sure to give it a quick rinse to remove any extra salt from the surface of the meat. You can either go ahead and cook the tenderloin or add another layer of flavor with your favorite rub. If you decide to add a rub make sure it is very low in salt as the meat already has all of the salt it needs.
It’s pretty easy to add variety to the brine recipe above. You can swap the maple syrup out for brown sugar or honey. You can add more flavors by adding a few cloves of crushed garlic or some sage leaves. I try to avoid adding orange or lemon juice to my brines as I don’t want the meat to be in contact with acidic solutions for prolonged periods.