Kitchen Hacks

The Very Useful Kitchen Ingredient You're Probably Tossing in the Trash

September 14, 2018

It’s no secret in my circle that I love salt—I’ve been known to sprinkle Maldon onto potato chips. So it was only a matter of time before I discovered the magic elixir more commonly known as feta brine: The salty, cloudy liquid in which hunks of feta cheese float.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

At first I approached it tentatively, with a splash atop a Greek salad here, or a teaspoon poured into a marinade there. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I got hooked for real—the Melissa Clark chicken story certainly didn't hurt—but I can confess that I caught myself taking a little sip straight from the container last week. These days, I'm using it in everything from pots of brown rice, to tofu prep, to salad dressings.

To me, feta brine is perfect in every way. It's salty as all get-out, subtly creamy, and best of all, already in my refrigerator. As a rule of thumb, you can use feta brine to intensify—and seriously elevate—virtually any dish that incorporates feta, as well as many that don't.

Shop the Story

Here are a few of my favorite ways to make the most of it:


Time to Brine

Feta brine makes for a killer, well, brine.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I always make up some brine to keep my feta for longer but then eventually get rid of it so this is great. Which is weird since I do use olive or pickle brines. Also for the cheeses immersed in herby oil - great for roasting, cooking or dressing! Or even tuna oil (it kills me that this gets poured out). ”
— Zozo
Comment

And not just for whole birds—though I do love the Melissa Clark recipe for roast chicken that Kristen Miglore dubbed Genius. I use a similar but simplified technique on smaller pieces, too, to amp up the juiciness: Take the leftover liquid from a package of feta, and submerge a couple of chicken thighs (or breasts, or drumsticks) in a plastic bag or covered bowl in the fridge for a couple of hours, before patting them dry and preparing as you otherwise would.

As I've mentioned, salt-restraint is not my strong suit in the kitchen (she said, as she reached for a jar of capers to snack on). So if you've already guessed that I don't stop with meat, you're correct. I also love to use feta liquid to "brine":

  • Vegetables, before grilling or roasting—especially for slower-cooking produce, like whole carrots
  • Tofu, either cubed and left to "pickle" in a jar for a raw feta-like snack, or as a proper brine before pressing out the liquid and grilling, to get extra crispy tofu
  • Small pieces of sweet fruits, like halved cherries, for use in salads and grain bowls

Make It Grain

Feta brine also does wonders to a pot of grains or legumes.

As a general rule of thumb, start by substituting 1/4 of your cooking liquid with feta brine, to get a feel for the flavor—then, you can titrate in more to your taste in subsequent batches. (I personally max out at about 1/2 brine, 1/2 water or stock.) Taste the cooking liquid before you get going to confirm, but it's likely you won't need to add any additional salt.


Wait, There's More!

When I don't have enough leftover feta liquid on hand to brine something for dinner, or to pull off a whole pot of rice, I'll use the dregs for:

  • Adding a splash to doughs, like for pizza, to contribute a little funk
  • Blending into feta as I'm whipping it for a dip to serve with crudite
  • Contributing saltiness and flavor to salad dressings

I'm sure I'm missing a few clutch uses—let me know in the comments or hotline! In the meantime, I'll be stocking up on more feta...


Now, For Using Up That Cheese

What do you do with your leftover feta brine? Let us know in the comments.

13 Comments

Marina D. October 30, 2018
Where have you been all my life?? 00000 fantastic suggestion!<br />
 
Eric B. October 28, 2018
Ooooo . What a great flavor booster. But it’s more than just salty water. I suspect that brine is teaming with multiple strains of a favored fermentation partner, lactobacillus, along with some other good-funk bacteria that come with the feta. For that reason you might want to limit it’s use to splash-and-eat, or quick, high-temp cooking. Unless you intentionally want some lactobacillus funk I wouldn’t use it in anything that was a slow cook, or had prolonged contact with the brine (e.g., marinades and brines for meats). Naturally occurring levels of LB on meat surfaces (no feta brine added) have been a recurring issue in longer SV cooks at moderate temps. It can lead to some serious, foul off-odors.
 
Eric K. September 15, 2018
Love how much you love salt, Ella. Feta is delicious.
 
suzybel63 September 15, 2018
I’ve been pouring my feta brine down the drain:-(, who knew! I’m thinking salad dressings, drizzle on roasting veg, roast potatoes, macaroni salad...
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. September 16, 2018
Mm, drizzled on roasted veg would be excellent.
 
Danuta G. September 14, 2018
I soak stale bread in feta brine, stick it under the broiler for a few mins and then add to stuffing mix! Also do the same thing with herby oil from cheeses like mozzarella balls, fry them up and serve on top of salads...yum!<br />
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. September 14, 2018
That sounds 100% incredible.
 
Zozo September 14, 2018
Omg yes! Great ideas! I always make up some brine to keep my feta for longer but then eventually get rid of it so this is great. Which is weird since I do use olive or pickle brines. <br /><br />Also for the cheeses immersed in herby oil - great for roasting, cooking or dressing! Or even tuna oil (it kills me that this gets poured out).
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. September 14, 2018
Totally agree re: herby oil cheeses. Thanks for the reminder!
 
Michelle B. October 29, 2018
I use tuna oil mixed with bread crumbs on top of tuna casserole.
 
Marina D. October 30, 2018
yes, tuna oil! I add it to pastas etc
 
Emma L. September 14, 2018
Feta-brined turkey for Thanksgiving?! (Starts stocking up on feta brine now.)
 
Author Comment
Ella Q. September 14, 2018
Love that idea! (Let me know if you need someone to eat all of your stockpiled feta...)