The City Magazine Since 1975

A Savory Science

A Savory Science
July 2009
The Mustard Seed’s Alex Harrell explains the delicious benefits of brining meat

Alex Harrell, executive chef of the James Island Mustard Seed, didn’t plan on working in kitchens—he had his sights set on scientific research. But when the young college grad couldn’t find a job using his biology degree, he turned to cuisine. A prep cook position in Birmingham, Alabama, led to nine years in New Orleans fine dining. In 2007, he arrived in Charleston, working at High Cotton before stepping into his current role last year.

But that doesn’t mean he left his early interests behind. When asked to share a favorite tip for summertime grilling, he points to brining—a technique for prepping meat that just happens to evoke a scientific explanation. “Brining uses a solution of water, salt, and sugar to break down some of the protein structure and muscle fiber in various meats, leaving them tender and flavorful even before you begin the cooking process,” explains Harrell. “And as the meat brines, cellular absorption causes its water weight to increase, canceling out some of the moisture loss that happens on the grill.

“You can stick to the basic three-ingredient brine or add herbs and seasonings to complement the recipe you plan to use when cooking the meat,” he continues. The technique is great for enhancing less expensive cuts such as chicken breasts, pork chops, and hanger steaks—no science degree required.

Whole Grain Mustard Compound Butter
(Makes 1/2 cup)

4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
3 oz. whole grain mustard
Pinch of kosher salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients together by hand or with an electric mixer.

Red Onion & Golden Raisin Chutney
(Makes approx. 2 cups)

2 cups julienned red onions
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbs. chopped parsley

Sauté onions in vegetable oil over medium heat until soft but not browned. Add remaining ingredients except parsley and reduce mixture until it has a syrup consistency. Allow mixture to cool at room temperature, then fold in chopped parsley. Chutney will keep for about two weeks when refrigerated in an airtight container.