We brine our turkey on Thanksgiving to give it fabulous flavor. Why not brine chicken, for the same reason? Most of us enjoy chicken at least once a week, may more. As much as we love it, it can, at times, become a bit dry. Brining is a way to take a chicken to a new level. Soaking chicken in water filled with salt and other ingredients gives it more juicy flavor.
If you are used to marinating your chicken, you might shrug and think, “I’m already doing all that.” Marinades are certainly popular, but they don’t work the same way as a brine. Marinades do not pass through the skin, so they only add flavor to the surface. As for tenderizing, the acids contained in most marinades, such as lemon juice or vinegar, can toughen fibers instead of tenderizing them. When you use a brine, the salt permeates and tenderizes the entire meat with added moisture.
A wet brine consists of water, salt, sugar and any other flavor ingredient you prefer, such as pepper, herbs, garlic or soy sauce. You can soak a whole chicken or parts of a chicken. Compared to a turkey brine, it doesn’t take such a very large container. All you do is mix the liquid and all ingredients together and soak the chicken for a few hours up to 2 days. You want to give your chicken plenty of time to absorb all the goodness.
First, you boil the liquid so that all the ingredients are incorporated. Let the liquid cool, because you don’t want to dunk your chicken into warm or lukewarm water. Place your chicken in the cold, seasoned water and refrigerate.
If your chicken is more spur of the moment, and there’s just no time for a good soak, a dry brine can still do the job. This works great when unexpected company drops by, and you want to have dinner on the table in a few hours. Simply omit the water and rub the spices, aromatics and other ingredients over the chicken’s skin. Refrigerate the seasoned chicken for an hour or two, then let it rest at room temperature for about half an hour and pat it dry. If the skin is wet, it will be soggy when roasted. You want crispy skin, right?
Whatever your brining method, do not leave the chicken at room temperature as that can attract bacteria. Always pour the brining solution down the drain when you are finished.
A dry brine will give you a crisper piece of poultry, while a wet brine will infuse your poultry with more flavor. You can decide which brining method is best for a particular meal. Either way, you’ll end up with a superior chicken that even the Colonel might eye with envy.
While you ponder the benefits of a wet vs. dry brine, allow us to toss in a third option. A wet brine that skips the water entirely and adds buttermilk. In case you didn’t know it, buttermilk is the secret of many southern fried chicken recipes, but soaking the chicken overnight in buttermilk and aromatics with have that bird bursting with flavor. The fact that buttermilk tenderizes poultry has been a southern secret far too long. It’s time the rest of us got into the act. A buttermilk brine is especially beneficial for crispy, flavorful fried chicken.
Let’s take a look at some brining recipes that will turn your chicken into a star.
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 diced small carrot
- 1 diced celery stalk
- 1 diced small onion
- 1 tsp. peppercorns
- ⅛ tsp. red pepper flakes
- ⅛ tsp. fennel seeds
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- Bring 2 cups of water to boil and add the sugar and salt in a large pot.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in all of the remaining ingredients.
- Refrigerate until the water is cold.
- Add 16 cups (a gallon) of water to the pot.
- Place the chicken in the pot and make sure it is entirely submerged in water.
- Cover the pot and refrigerate up to 2 days. The longer, the better.
- 1. Mix ¼ cup of kosher salt with 1 tablespoon of baking powder.
- 2. Pat the chicken dry.
- 3. Rub the salt on the outside and inside of the chicken.
- 4. Place the chicken on a baking sheet and refrigerate for a minimum of 12 hour.
- 5. Do not rinse the chicken prior to roasting, but omit any salt in the recipe.
- Buttermilk Brine Recipe:
- 1 quart buttermilk
- 5 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- Combine the ingredients in a large plastic bag or container.
- Add the chicken and refrigerate overnight.
- Rinse and pat dry before preparing chicken.
photo credit: Flickr/Steven Depolo