“Truth is sought for it’s own sake…” as the saying goes.
I’ve decided to change the name of my “no frills” roasted chicken project. Not sure what it’s going to be yet, but to be honest the “no frills” aspect wasn’t really selling it they way I had meant for it to. It was kind ‘a like saying, “come and check out my exhilarating pocket lint collection.” I’m realizing that my intention with these posts has not really been about “no frills”, but rather I’m trying to experiment and discover which methods and factors truly contribute to the tastiest bird with the least amount of work. Again, what is my ideal tasty bird? It’s a roasted chicken that is juicy, having good flavor with not too chalky a texture, and sporting a lovely golden hued crispiness to its skin. As with Lincoln logs, my hope is to then assemble a good recipe from the separate pieces of information I have collected in the process.
So where did we end off last? Well, I believe I was exploring the concept of trussing. What my skeptical self found was that it sincerely kept the breast meat amply hydrated, leaving the bird evenly cooked and having the texture I have been looking for. Moving along, I thought that it was time for me to explore the concept of brining.
To brine is to basically soak a piece of meat in a primarily saline (salty) solution. Yes,this is also yet another thing that I have not always been the most keen supporter of, for while it can be useful, it generally seems to have become generically over used (culinary Gods kill me now). I say this for when we are “brining” (infusing salt and other flavors into the meat via the cellular structure) we are also unfortunately adding water. The longer that the meat ‘brines’, the more water that the meat will eventually take on, kind of like a sponge being soaked in water- which, given enough time, will essentially dilute the true flavors of the meat (the real desired flavor). I’m no scientist, but Harold McGee IS and I have referenced his 2008 New York Times writing here on the subject of brining turkey, if you want a more respectable explanation.
But I am not wholesale saying that brining is a bad thing; it certainly helps keep a piece of meat amply hydrated throughout the roasting process which can help prevent it from drying out. Low fat meats, such as chicken and certain cuts of pork can actually do well, so long as we don’t over use the technique and over-soak the meat. The other good thing about brining is that it can be used to impart flavors into the meat along with the moisture. I like using molasses or maple syrup (grade B) from time to time, or even bay leaf, lemon peels or black peppercorns. Once you get the hang of the technique, the more creative you can become with it, just be careful of how long you soak it.
I was taught a simple formula years ago that is really easy to remember: for every quart of water, use a half a cup of kosher salt and up to a quarter cup sugar. So for a gallon of brine, I normally use 1 gallon of water, 2 cups of kosher salt and up to about a cup of sugar. This recipe is only for kosher salt and not table salt as table salt is much more dense so you’d have to cut back a bit or the brine will be excessively salty. I say ‘up to a cup’ with the sugar as it really comes down to taste, I generally err on the side of having little to no sugar added to my food.
Basic Brine Recipe:
1 gallon of water (16 cups)
2 cups kosher salt
¾ to 1 cup of cup sugar (depending on your tastes)
Using a large stock-pot combine ingredients and bring to a boil, so that the salt and sugar dissolve into the water. Set aside to cool (about 40°F). Once cool, submerge a chicken into the solution and refrigerate for 4- 8 hours. Remove the chicken, give it a quick rinse in tepid water and then let it dry out in the refrigerator for a few hours.
If you’re in a hurry, as we always seem to be, then go ahead and use about a third of the water to dissolve the mix. You can always add more if the mix doesn’t fully saturate. When finished, take the rest of your water (preferably as cold as you can get it, and add it to the cooked mix. This will bring the temperature down much faster, enabling you to get the chicken soaking ASAP. Remember that the brine should be chilled before adding the meat so you don’t cook the meat or risk holding it within the temperature danger zone for bacterial growth (41°F to 135°F).
When the chicken was finished brining ( a little over 4 hours) and dried out in the refrigerator (about 8 hours) I prepared it according to my control roasting process for the experiment I began with in Part 1.
How’d it turn out? From the photo above; quite nicely, thank you very much. The brining helped to keep the bird fairly moist through the roasting process better than a bird not trussed or brined. The skin did have a light golden hue and had a level of crispiness, but nothing much better than the other processes thus far. The brining should come in handy when I begin roasting the birds at higher temperatures, but I still think that the trussing of the chicken delivered comparable results in far less time, and I am a fan of saving time.