Sunday, February 19, 2012

Brined Roast Chicken

I've been roasting chickens for years and have developed a well-tested methodology that results in an almost perfect bird.


One thing I have never attempted: brining the bird. I've brined pork roasts (delicious and juicy); I've brined pork belly (to make a sort of bacon), but I've never brined a chicken. There's a first for everything. Anyway, I nosed around in my cookery books looking for a ratio that would work for me and I settled on Heston Blumenthal's "6% brine" which is five litres of water to 300 grams of salt.  My past adventures in brining were all admittedly weak brews with a saline level that wasn't scary looking. So, I had a bit of trepidation when I started to put this together. Trust me, 300 grams of salt is A LOT of salt. Anyway, I made the brine and added a huge whack of thyme branches (I saw Tyler Florence do that to a chicken brine), and I also added juniper berries. I put the brine in a large stock pot lined with a plastic bag (the saline solution may interact with the steel of the pot, so the plastic bag will keep things chemically neutral). I submerged the chicken in the brine, put on a lid, and set it out on the front porch for about 6 hours.

Once the brining phase was done, I fished my hen out her bath, dried her thoroughly with paper towels, removed the wishbone, and shoved a lemon into the cavity. I did not salt the outside of the bird because I was worried it would be too salty (I've since realized that I could have salted the outside with confidence). Into a 400 degree oven it went for a good 25 minute sizzle, then down to 325 degrees for a gentle hour of cooking. This roasting method  is a bit of a diversion from my regular approach of super hot oven cooking throughout. I instinctively decided to tread a little more carefully than usual and roast at  gentle rate - the brine raised caution. Once done, I took the bird's temp with a probe thermometer to make sure she was good to go, and then took it out to rest for a good half hour before carving up.

Verdict: good. First of all, the bird was delicious. And so it should be. It was a Yorkshire Valley farms organic chicken. Brining the bird added a subtle yet not overly salty  flavour. I think brining lends itself to the problem of dry flavourless breasts. There are many tricks to keep a breast juicy involving oven temperatures, basting, butter under the skin, bacon etc, etc. Brining elminates the need for any of that.  With almost no intervention beyond the brine, the results were juicy and the flesh did not develop the fibrousness that white meat sometimes does.  However I think the dark meat on chicken didn't present a signficant difference from a normally roasted bird. When I have the time, I will continue to brine simply because the bird just roasts better and the flesh did indeed taste good. When I don't have time, I'll just stick to my tried-and-true normal roasting method (mostly based on the recipe of Thomas Keller from The French Laundry).

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