I’ve long been a fan of pre-salting meat for an extended period of time prior to cooking to produce a final result that is juicer, tenderer, and more flavorful. The procedure is simple and straightforward. I liberally sprinkle coarse Kosher or sea salt on all exposed surfaces of the meat to be cooked, set it aside, and wait. Early on, small beads of liquid will be expelled, but as time passes the liquid will be reabsorbed into the meat. In a sense, the process is one of curing or “dry brining”. When the process is complete, I pat the meat very dry with paper towels and proceed to cooking, using the smoker or otherwise. The only variable is the time necessary to fully complete the cycle, and this depends on the size of the item being dry brined. A 1½” rib eye could be 2-3 hours, a full prime rib could be a day, and a whole turkey could be upwards of 3 days.
For additional flavor enhancement, minced herbs, garlic, etc. can be added to the salt, and their flavors will fully permeate the meat rather than just remaining on the surface. A few months ago I read an article about a chef in Portland, OR who adds wine to sea salt for dry brining, and thought that it sounded like a natural winner. I made up a batch and have tried it on a variety of steaks, roasts, pork loins, etc. with outstanding results every time. This is definitely a keeper and has become a household staple.
The basic recipe, which is open to a lot of personal interpretation, along with a couple of my notes, follows:
Red Wine Sea Salt
2 cups red wine
¾ cup coarse sea salt
1 cup sugar
8 springs thyme, chopped
2 strips lemon zest, finely chopped
1. Pour the wine into a small saucepan and place over medium heat. Reduce it by half and turn the heat to low. Continue reducing until you’re down to 2-3 tablespoons. Set aside very briefly to cool.
2. Combine coarse sea salt, sugar, thyme, lemon zest, and wine reduction in a food processor and pulse until the blend is homogenized and has the consistency of kosher or even table salt.
3. Spread the mixture on a sheet pan to dry overnight at room temperature. When dry, transfer to an air tight container and refrigerate.
• Use a good quality wine, something that you really enjoy drinking.
• Once the reduced wine is nearing the desired consistency and quantity, it’s important to keep a sharp eye on it as it’s easy to go from syrup to sludge in a matter of a few seconds. Also, don’t remove it from the burner and allow it to sit for any period of time. The same will happen. I suggest that you have all of the other ingredients ready in the food processor, and once the wine is ready, immediately pour it on top of them and process.
• Don’t attempt to rush the drying process by using a low heat oven. The final product will retain a tiny bit of moisture which is desirable.
• For items with a lighter colored flesh such as chicken or fish, substitute a fruity white wine, such as good quality, and not overly sweet, riesling or gewürztraminer . A purple chicken breast doesn’t look too appealing.