If you're in the middle of cleaning out your fridge, stop – there are flavor bombs sitting in there that you might throw out. Where? Head to the shelf where you keep jarred goods like capers and olives, and pause. Right there, in those little glass jars, is liquid gold, which deserves just as much attention as the ingredients it houses. Whether it's included in a marinade or stirred into a sandwich spread, the acidity and salty flavor of brine is an easy way to instantly boost whatever you're cooking. Adding acid to a dish can help balance rich ingredients, as well as brighten up the taste (like when you squeeze a lemon over fried seafood). Salt not only brings savory depth, but can also enhance other flavors in the dish, such as when you add salt to chocolate to intensify its taste and contrast the sweetness. Brine brings all of those elements together in one neat package.
Another bonus: by choosing to re-use jarred brine, you're also helping to cut down on your kitchen waste. So cooking with it is pretty much a win-win situation. If you need a roadmap to get started, we've gathered a collection of recipes here – organized by type of brine – that offer different ways to cook with brine. Take a look, then start to experiment. Once you rummage through your fridge to see what brines you have and play around with different combinations, your new favorite marinade or dressing might just be a few ingredients away.
If You've Got Olive Brine …
Olive Brine-Marinated Pork with Roasted Olives and Beans Recipe
You can use olive brine (and many of the other brines in this list) to marinate protein, like in this recipe for Olive Brine – Marinated Pork with Roasted Olives and Beans, where it's combined with extra-virgin olive oil, ground sage, lemon zest, and salt. Or, use the brine, plus some oil from a jar of Calabrian chiles, to add a boost to the braising liquid for this Citrus and Fennel Chicken. For a next-level appetizer, these Caviar-Topped Deviled Eggs are the way to go. Liquid from a jar of pimiento-stuffed green olives goes into the creamy yolk filling, giving it a nice kick, and the briny flavor beautifully compliments the dollop of caviar that crowns each egg.
If You've Got Pickle Brine …
Easy Fried Chicken Recipe
Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners
If you have pickle brine and chicken, you're in luck – we have several fried chicken recipes that call for pickle brine in the marinade. In this recipe for Pickle-Brined Fried Chicken, we found that adding it to a classic buttermilk marinade infuses the chicken with flavor and lends a subtle sweetness. It also contributes to these juicy and crunchy Super-Crispy Fried Chicken Sandwiches. But you don't need to limit yourself to meat. If you have a jar of dill pickles, use the juice to give slabs of extra-firm tofu a quick soak, like in this recipe for a Crispy Fried Tofu Sandwich.
If You've Got Caper Brine …
Seriously Dirty Martinis
Caper brine is one of the many ingredients that goes into our recipe for Chicken Marbella. It's added to the chicken thighs along with Castelvetrano olives, prunes, extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, dried apricots, and more to marinate the chicken thighs while they sit overnight in the fridge. In the mood for a drink? Give these Seriously Dirty Martinis a try. Dirty Martinis are known for their inclusion of olive brine or olive juice, but this recipe takes it one step further and uses olive juice plus caper brine. The martinis are finished with a crack of black pepper and make an elegant drink for entertaining.
If you'd prefer a seafood recipe, this Coulibiac of Salmon with Pickled Beets and Kale – a stunning holiday centerpiece – uses the acidity of caper brine to brighten up the rich, creamy crème fraîche sauce. And speaking of sauce, this Rib-Eye Steak au Poivre uses a hint of caper brine in its sauce, too.
If You've Got Pickled Pepper Brine …
Roasted Broccoli with Pickled Pepper Vinaigrette
Photo by Greg DuPree / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen
Pickled pepperoncini and some of their brine play a part in our twist on Philadelphia Roast Pork Sandwiches, whose top buns are slathered with mayo mixed with the peppers, brine, and grated garlic. The brine is a nice way to gently add heat to the mayo. You can also use pickled pepper brine in a vinaigrette for this Roasted Sheet Pan Broccoli, either from this recipe for Refrigerator Pickled Peppers, or store-bought jarred pickled peppers.
If You've Got Feta Brine …
Feta-Brined Chicken Sandwiches
© John Kernick
The simple combination of salty feta brine and hot sauce – that's it! – gives chicken cutlets wonderfully tangy flavor after just 30 minutes of soaking in the fridge in these Feta-Brined Chicken Sandwiches. The feta itself is used too, whipped with extra-virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice to form a smooth sandwich spread.
If You've Got Pickled Ramp Brine …
Photo by Huge Galdones / Food Styling by Christina Zerkis
If you pickled ramps in the spring, here's a bonus – you not only preserved a famously ephemeral ingredient, but also created a tasty, pungent brine in the process. Use that brine to make a delicious vinaigrette for an Heirloom Tomato Salad, a summery dish that would be right at home at cookouts and al fresco dinner parties. (And if you want to make your own pickled ramps, we have a recipe for that, too.)
If You've Got Giardiniera Brine …
Vegetarian Muffulettas Recipe
Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners
Say hello to these Vegetarian Muffulettas! Instead of the traditional cold cuts, this sandwich features garlicky roasted vegetables, plus provolone cheese and a tangy olive relish. The relish is where the giardiniera and its brine come in – they're combined with capers, Castelvetrano olives, and garlic cloves (plus oil they were cooked in) to make a flavor-packed sandwich spread. The relish can also be used as a topping for grilled or roasted fish, or in a bean or pasta salad.