I’d heard and read about the benefits of brining chicken (or turkey for that matter) for quite a few years, but had always thought it a little gimmicky and never tried it.
But as of late we’ve been faced with a chicken dilemma: The organic free-range chickens that we buy from our friend are really free-range, i.e. they run around outside eating bugs and other things that chickens eat, as well as getting vegetable scraps and some grain. Our friend lets them get quite big too; the last batch were each around 7 lbs (and yes, they’re chickens not capons or roosters!). As a result, they’re big, muscular, and very tasty….but not terribly tender or juicy.
Having bought 10 of them and having cooked two to less than happy results, I decided to try brining last night’s chicken. There are dozens of recipes on the net, all pretty much the same. I put a cup of organic sugar and a cup of salt into a pot with about a liter of water, and brought it to a boil in order to dissolve and supersaturate the water, i.e. force it to take up more of the salt and sugar than it would at room temperature. I then added 3 more liters of cold water to the pot, into which I dumped the raw chicken, and let it sit for 24 hours in our cold winter pantry (the “mud room” between the inside and outside doors). If you have the room, you can even put it in the fridge (we don’t because our fridge is always groaning with food….just like our legs). You can let it sit even double that time….it apparently enhances the flavor even more.
After brining for 24 hours, I took the chicken out, rinsed it, patted it dry, and quickly cut two Honeycrisp apples into the cavity, covered the top with eight strips of organic nitrate-free bacon from one of the hippie farmers, and baked it for 3 hours at 325° on convect. When the temperature in the leg-crease had reached 150° I threw in 20 or so fingerling potatoes into the pot, swished them around the bacon-chicken drippings and let bake for another 45 minutes or until the temperature had reached 160°.
The end-result was an outstanding chicken of immense moisture and plumpness, with wonderful flavor. The potatoes were beautifully cooked with just a hint of burnt edginess, and the bacon was a wonderful crisp condiment. One caveat: You won’t need to salt the chicken before or after baking because the brining will give it just the perfect internal saltiness.