Thursday, May 10, 2012

Roasted Chicken: Brined Two Ways


There are so many ways to prepare a roast chicken, but no matter which method a cook chooses, they all want the same outcome: moist flavorful meat with a beautifully browned crisp skin. I hesitated writing this post, as I'm well aware the world doesn't need another recipe for roasting a chicken on the internet. But I reminded myself that this blog was intended to catalog my recipes, and in the process, share them with you. So I say, to hell with it! Perhaps there's someone out there whose never brined and/or roasted a chicken, and here they'll find two equally delicious methods to choose from, along with the basics for roasting the perfect bird. 





I find myself preparing a chicken for roasting one of two ways: 1)Dry brining it with an herbed-salt mixture 2)Wet brining it in a seasoned liquid brine. These methods require a bit more planning, as the wet brine needs about 8 to 12 hours or overnight, and the dry brine takes 1 to 2 days. I feel each gives wonderful results, and I vary the method depending on how much time I have. When I'm short on time or when I spontaneously feel like roasting a chicken, I will skip the brining process all together and proceed with the recipe I've provided on roasting at the bottom of this post. 




For years I was skeptical of brining. I thought the salt solution would create an overly salty bird and mask its delicate natural flavor. Through experimentation, I've proved myself wrong. I now find that if you have the time, brining takes your bird the extra mile. 



What is a brine? A brine is a salt and water solution, and in the case of chicken, helps to add moisture and flavor to the meat. Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot in Ideas in Food, explain the process of brining beautifully, and I will do my best to paraphrase. A brine works through the process of osmosis. While the chicken is soaking in the brine, the salt solution is drawn in through the cell walls of the bird, from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration. In the areas where there are higher concentrations of salt, it will draw enough water into that area until equilibrium has been reached. First, the water will be drawn out of the chicken and into the brine (since the brine has a higher concentration of salt than the meat of the bird). Then, by process of diffusion, the salt and water are drawn back into the chicken. Once the salt is absorbed into the chicken, it begins to breakdown the proteins in the meat. The chicken is then able to absorb more brine and swelling occurs. The broken down or denatured proteins hold the brine in a water-holding matrix, creating a bird that is juicier, flavorful, and more tender.





Science aside, I love a roasted chicken because in my opinion, there are few things more comforting on earth. It can be a simple family meal or an elegant one, depending on your approach. These recipes will lead to a beautifully moist chicken with an almost pastry-like flaky, buttery, crunchy skin. What are you waiting for? This ain't your typical spring chicken.


LEMON ROSEMARY BRINED CHICKEN (WET BRINE)
Slightly adapted from Kristina Johnson's blog, The Former Chef 

1 5-6 lb. chicken 
1 gallon (16 cups) cold water
6 oz. (by weight) kosher salt (about 1 cup)
1 oz. (by weight) brown sugar (light or dark- about 2 tbsp. packed)
3 lemons, halved
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. black peppercorns, crushed
2 tsp. juniper berries, crushed (optional)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

In a small saucepan, combine the salt, brown sugar, and 2 cups of the water and heat until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Set aside and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prep the chicken. Remove the neck and giblets (if included) from the main cavity and reserve for another use (or discard). Rinse the chicken thoroughly inside and out with cold water and place in a large pot (about 12 qt. size). Squeeze the halved lemons over the bird and drop them in the pot. Add the smashed garlic, rosemary, and spices. Pour the remaining 14 cups of cold water into the pot, followed by the slightly cooled salt/sugar solution. If the water doesn't completely cover the chicken, add a couple more cups so that it is fully submerged (you can always place a plate on top of the chicken if it begins to float). Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours. Thoroughly rinse the chicken in cold water to remove the brine. Pat completely dry with paper towels and if you have time, let the chicken sit uncovered in the refrigerator for an hour to dry out the skin. Remove from the fridge and let the chicken come to room temperature before roasting.


LEMON & HERB SALTED CHICKEN (DRY BRINE)

Ingredients:
1 5-6 lb. chicken
1 tsp. kosher salt per pound of chicken
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
1/2 tsp. fresh sage, minced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp. grated lemon zest

In a small bowl, add the salt, herbs, garlic, and lemon zest. Mix well to combine. Rub the salt and herb mixture into the chicken, seeing that it is evenly coated. Place the chicken in a roasting pan or on a large dish and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to sit in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 days before roasting. 

Remove the chicken from the fridge and thoroughly rinse it in cold water to remove the brine. Pat completely dry with paper towels and if you have time, let the chicken sit uncovered in the refrigerator for an hour to dry out the skin. Remove from the fridge and let the chicken come to room temperature before roasting.


ROASTED CHICKEN 
(Whether brining or not, this is my standard recipe for roast chicken)

Ingredients:
1 5-6 lb. chicken, brought to room temperature
6 to 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature (you can also use an herb butter- see recipe below)
1 lemon, quartered
1 head garlic, halved
A handful of mixed herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, and sage)- for stuffing the bird and extra for seasoning the vegetables (if using)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Copped vegetables (optional)- I like to use 2-3 carrots, 2-3 parsnips, and a handful of small potatoes
1 cup chicken stock or water
Butcher's twine for trussing

If using an herb butter:
6 to 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
1/2 tsp. fresh sage leaves, minced

Allow your chicken to come to room temperature (takes about 1 to 1½ hours). Position oven rack in the center of the oven and place your roasting pan in the oven. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F. 

Using a small knife, remove the wishbone (located between the breast and neck) from the chicken by scraping around the bone with a small knife, and pulling it out using your fingers (this will allow you to carve with ease later on).  Salt and pepper inside the neck and main cavities. Place the halved garlic and quartered lemon in the main cavity, along with a handful of fresh herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, or sage or a combination of all three). Fold the wing tips under the bird.

Using your fingers, slowly nudge the membrane between the skin and breast to make room for the butter (be careful not to tear the skin). Using your hands, evenly rub 3 or 4 tbsp. of the softened butter under the skin. Truss the chicken or simply tie the legs together (see notes below). Place the chicken on a v-rack and rub the remaining butter over the entire outer skin of the chicken. Salt and pepper the bird.  

Remove the preheated roasting pan from the oven and position the v-rack holding the chicken in the pan. If using chopped vegetables, scatter them around the rack and include some herbs if desired, (no need to chop the herbs, just toss them in). Pour 1 cup chicken stock or water into the bottom of the pan. 

Position the chicken with the breast-side facing the oven door (legs facing the back of the oven) and roast for about 1 ½ to 1¾ hours (add more stock or water to the pan if it becomes too dry, and tent the chicken loosely with foil if browning too quickly). Continue to roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh or breast (being careful not to hit bone) reads 165 to 170 degrees F (it’s a good idea to check both thighs, as they can vary in temp), or when the juices between the leg and the breast run clear, and the legs wiggle in their sockets. Start checking the temperature about 15 to 20 minutes prior to when you think it should be done. Once done, transfer the chicken to a cutting board and tent very loosely with foil. Let rest 10 to 20 minutes before carving. I like to remove the entire breast in one piece and cut it against the grain into large pieces.  

Notes:
  • I've found over the years that one of the most important steps in roasting a chicken is allowing it to come to room temperature before cooking. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. If you place a cold chicken in a hot oven, it will decrease the oven's temperature and potentially lead to an unevenly cooked bird or result in a longer cooking time. Additionally, this step will dry out the skin and help create an incredibly crisp skin after roasting. 
  • There are many ways to truss a chicken, but the simplest way is to tie the legs together using butcher's twine. If you want to get fancy, you can watch chef Thomas Keller demonstrate how to truss a chicken in this video.
  • If you don't have a v-rack or a roasting pan, simply place your chicken in a large ovenproof pan, such as a cast iron skillet, and roast as directed. If using vegetables, place them directly in the pan and position the chicken on top of them.
  • I do not baste my bird, I find it unnecessary. Besides constantly opening the oven door to baste, lets out far too much heat, and lowers the overall oven temperature.
  • Another method for roasting a chicken is to cook it on its side for 20 minutes (leg facing the top of the oven), flip it and roast it on its other side for 20 minutes, and finish it breast-side up for the final 30 minutes, or until finished cooking. If using this method, work quickly, as you don't want to let out too much heat from the oven.


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