Dry brining - The secret to enjoying restaurant like steaks

How long since you start wearing your apron and entering the kitchen? It is crazy to know that until now you are looking for this wonderful method of cooking your beef, poultry, or any other meat (even if you are on your first day of home cooking). 

The term "dry brining" prominently refers to the method of seasoning and resting food before cooking. With this technique, even a novice cook can easily bring out the aroma and umami flavor of every piece of beef.

Despite “a little bit” of exaggeration, this article is truly here to clear up your concern about how to best cook a perfect steak by uncovering this “Masterchef's top-secret technique.""

1. Why is it good to have your steak dry-brined?

Are you still skeptical about the magic behind this technique? Then, here are the bullet points in favor of dry-brining.

More Deeply Seasoned Food, Without Fuss

Salt is a flavor amplifier. And many people have the intention of salting the beef right before cooking it. 

Although this isn't a bad thing, seasoning food with salt and allowing it to sit for a while results in meat that is much more evenly and thoroughly seasoned. 

When you dry brine meat, you not only season the surface but also begin the process of removing some water from the meat. This tightens the surface and increases the Maillard reaction when the meat is seared.

For your information, the Maillard reaction is a chemical process that takes place when a protein and sugar are combined under high heat to create hundreds of different flavor compounds, giving your steak a complex flavor, aroma, and stunning appearance.

Juicy, Firm Results

Meat and fish that have been dry-brined cook up perfectly juicy and firm. With enough time, salt will work its protein-dissolving magic, preserving the meat's natural moisture during the cooking process. 

In fish with soft flesh, like mackerel, salting also helps firm up the meat, making it easier to handle during cooking and more tantalizing to enjoy.

Better Browning and Crispier Skin

In addition to creating more juicy meat, dry-brining results in better surface browning, and a crunchier crust on steaks, and beef roasts. 

The meat's surface is left much drier once the moisture is drawn back into balance with the high salt concentration of the interior. Additionally, because the proteins dissolve and the muscle fibers relax, less moisture in the meat is squeezed out during cooking, keeping the surface drier. 

Therefore, you quickly achieve Maillard browning when you blast a piece of dry-brined meat with heat, whether searing in a skillet or finishing in a hot oven. 

As a result, you're less likely to overcook your food in the pursuit of a crust.

2. The science behind the dry-brining process

The Traditional brining

To understand our method, let’s take a quick look at the traditional technique. 

Here, brine refers to a salt solution, which is used to soak all meat or other stuff. Brining is a method for seasoning raw ingredients (or even cooked ones) to preserve their firmness and freshness after cooking. 

Lean, bland proteins that tend to dry out when exposed to high heat (such as mass-produced pork, chicken, turkey, etc.) benefit from this process.

Do you know that dehydration when cooking is because muscle fibers contract when heated, squeezing out moisture like when you wring out a towel? This makes your steaks typically dry and tasteless.

The meat absorbs salt and water from the brine through the osmosis and diffusion processes. Muscle fibers that have been loosened by salt don't contract as much, and proteins that have been dissolved by salt create a gel that holds water from evaporating when cooking.

The modern Dry-brining technique, but with a twist...

The same things occur in dry brining, but the need for extra water is eliminated when this method allows you to use the natural moisture content of the meat to produce a concentrated brine instead. 

Given enough time, this is naturally absorbed back into the meat before cooking. 

You can observe osmosis in action by adding kosher salt to a steak and waiting a few minutes: 

Due to the salt, the liquid from the steak will bead up on the surface of the meat. 

In ten more minutes, the liquid from the beef will have started to dissolve the salt, creating a concentrated brine. 

This liquid created from the natural juices of the meat is what distinguishes this procedure as "brining", which is not just a ridiculous renaming of simple salting.

The meat then absorbs the dissolved salt through a process called diffusion, moving from a region of high to low concentration (the interior of the steak). 

In other words, you’ve just tricked your food into brining itself using its own juices with just a little salt and patience. After all, you are left with a piece of meat that has been properly seasoned and will cook with more natural moisture. 

3. How can you do it by yourself?

Any "hot and fast" cut, including NY Steak, Ribeye, Denver, Picanha, Chuck Steak, and others, works great with this recipe.

The first step in dry brining a steak is to liberally salt it on all sides. How much? It's entirely up to you, but it is preferable to have something that nicely falls between coating or dusting.

After that, put it on a wire rack set over a baking sheet and chill for a minimum of 4 hours and a maximum of 12 hours. (However, if you're pressed for time, even 20 to 30 minutes will make a difference.)

When it's time to cook, take it out of the refrigerator and allow it get to room temperature before you start.

After dry brining, just be as creative as you are to cook a perfect steak. 

Today, let me share with you my preferred method: just sear it over extremely high heat before baking it at a medium-low temperature to complete:

  • Set the oven's temperature to 300 °F.
  • Cast-iron, carbon steel, or stainless steel oven-safe pans should be heated to a scorching temperature (medium-high, 8 out of 10).
  • Add one tablespoon of a high smoke point oil, like grapeseed, avocado, or canola. Just as the oil starts to smoke, place the steak in the pan. 2-3 minutes to sear both sides.
  • For medium-rare, place the entire skillet in the oven without any cover for 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Conclusion

Here is the secret method you need to make yourself a restaurant-quality steak right from your kitchen. Just give your meat 20-30 minutes after salting (or if you are not busy, season it and let it in the fridge overnight) to rest and absorb all the aroma and mouth-watering flavor itself. Surely, you'll be well rewarded for your waiting with 5-star dishes.

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