Thursday, December 27, 2007
TO BRINE OR NOT TO BRINE...THAT WAS THE QUESTION
Sometimes we're faced with the fact that we don't know as much as we think we know. Or better put, we don't know everything within our field of expertise. Recently, I was faced with such a discovery about myself, and that discovery came to me in the form of the simple procedure known as brining. I had never done it!
When faced with the reality of cooking Christmas dinner for two this year, I decided to roast a nice chicken rather than a turkey. Actually, the truth be known, I'm kind of tired of turkey. I like tradition as much as anyone, but I have been roasting turkey twice a year for a long time and I have decided that I will mix it up a bit from now on. But this year I was cooking for two, and I just didn't want to be bothered dealing with leftovers well into the new year.
Anyway, I decided to roast chicken this year, so I went to see Tony, my local butcher. He had some beautiful little five pounders that caught my eye, so I got two (yes two!) as well as 10 pounds of bones for my stock. This was going to be a chicken dinner worth remembering!
The reason I got two chickens was because I had a request to brine the chicken before I roasted it. I had never brined anything in my life, and as far as I was concerned, brining was a procedure meant to infuse moisture into a piece of meat - or in this case, a fowl - where moisture would be lost during the roasting process. I always thought that my roasts and fowls were nice and moist and I didn't need to resort to brining to turn out a nice finished product.
I agreed to brine the chicken but I thought I would get a second and roast it as usual to compare the two. There was a huge difference!
This particular brine incorporated tea, oranges, salt, brown sugar and bay leaves. The mixture was heated, then cooled, and the chicken was submersed in it for a day. After brining, the chicken had a golden color to it from the tea; the skin and flesh both had a deep golden/orange hue. The chicken was also a little plumper than it had been prior to the brining due to the fact that some of the brine had been absorbed into the flesh of the chicken.
I seasoned and filled the cavity of both chickens with herbs , oranges and lemon and roasted them side by side. The chicken that had been brined was a dark brown color after roasting, whereas the unbrined chicken was the usual golden brown. This was an interesting contrast.
Once the chickens were carved into, I can't say as I found a noticeable difference in the moisture content between the two birds. Both were juicy. I tasted the two and found that the brined chicken had a really amazing flavor not present in the other chicken. I could taste the tea and orange in the flesh and it was incredibly tasty! I was actually very impressed with this!!
Having done this experiment and seeing for myself the results of brining, I can see the possibility for so many flavor combinations. Not only are the flavor combinations extensive, but small cuts of meat can be brined as well as the larger ones. Why not brine chicken parts, chops and steaks? After all...brines can be little more than wet marinades.
Orange Herbal Chicken Brine
5 cups hot water
6 orange-flavored herbal tea bags
1 cup kosher salt
2/3 cups brown sugar
4 bay leaves
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 6-7 lb roasting chicken
In an 8 quart non aluminum pot, combine the first six ingredients and stir until salt and sugar are thoroughly dissolved. Add 9 cups of cold water. Place chicken in brine, neck side down, and cover. Refrigerate for 8 hours, or over night.
Roast chicken at 325 degrees for 15 minutes per pound.
Posted by Livingston Cooks at 9:20 AM