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Brining chicken breasts before cooking them can help to create meat that is tender and juicy while also potentially introducing some flavor inside the breast. There are a few scientific concepts to support brining chicken breasts to enhance the meat, and following a tested recipe will help to ensure that all the important aspects — such as the temperature of the brine and the amount of salt involved — are correct. The brine solution also can have different flavors introduced to it, although the properties of the flavorings need to be considered to make sure the chicken breast does not take on too much of any one element. The amount of time the chicken spends in the brine needs to be carefully monitored to avoid creating meat that will not cook properly or that might dissolve in the solution.
The two basic elements required when brining chicken breasts are salt and water. The ratio of one to the other in a brine solution needs to be within a specific range, so using a recipe can be very important. If too much salt is added, the breast meat could absorb too much and become inedible. Too much salt also can mean the proteins break down too quickly, turning the chicken into a mushy mess. Should too little salt be added, the overall effect of the brining will be no different than soaking the chicken in plain water.
The temperature of the brining liquid is important for safety reasons. If spices or other ingredients are added to the brine for flavor, then it is usually heated to allow the release of oils and to merge all of the ingredients. Whether heated or not, the liquid solution used for brining chicken breasts needs to be kept below 40° Fahrenheit (about 4° Celsius) once the chicken is added. This will prevent the development of harmful bacteria and stop the chicken from spoiling over time.
The correct amount of time needed for brining chicken breasts can vary but should not be in excess of four hours. The salt in the brine will break down the proteins in the meat, which is one of the reasons why the chicken becomes so moist. If too many proteins break down, the chicken will have no structure to hold it together and may turn into a strange, thick paste.
Whenever brining chicken breasts, it is important to wash them off with fresh water after soaking and before cooking. Otherwise, the amount of salt present on the surface can be very overpowering and unpleasant. There also can be some safety and contamination concerns if any of the used brine water comes into contact with other foods used in the final meal.