Monday, October 31, 2011

Brined roast chicken with maple carrots

We've been thinking having friends over for American Thanksgiving.  Over the past year, I've heard that brining the turkey results in really moist, tasty turkey.  I decided to give it a try this weekend (with chicken rather than turkey.

There's a really great article in Cook's Illustrated about the basics of brining - in particular, it describes some of the science behind brining (it's not just that the flavors penetrate into the chicken - brining the chicken also denatures proteins which helps the meat retain moisture when cooked).

I've also been reading about "dry brining" - from what I've read, people have achieved excellent results with dry brining and it seems like less work.  Maybe next weekend...

This is a recipe works best if you plan ahead - brine needs to be boiled then chilled in the fridge, chicken needs to be brined for a number of hours (at least 3), chicken should air-dry and come to room temperature before cooking. We tried to squeeze this all into a day, and we didn't start making the brine until 1pm - which meant we didn't actually eat until about 9 pm!

I used a recipe from Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook for our brined roast chicken recipe.  The following is more than enough brine for two chickens

1 gallon water
1 cup kosher salt
1/3 cut honey
12 bay leaves
1/2 cup garlic cloves, skin on, smashed
2 tablespoons black pepper corns
1/2 ounce rosemary
1/2 ounce thyme
2 ounces italian parsley 
zest and juice of 2 lemons

Combine the ingredients and bring to a boil for 1 minute, then let cool.

Interestingly enough, the Cook's illustrated guide points out that not all salts are equal - depending on the type of salt you use, you may have double the quantity (table salt vs diamond crystal salt).  I'll probably pay more attention to this next time.

Brine ingredients, all ready to go
We didn't have fresh thyme, so we used powered thyme.  It gave our
brine a much swampier look

Once the brine was getting close to boiling, we through in the herbs.

Boil for 1 minute

Since we had time constraints, I wanted to cool the brine as quickly as possible and then get it in the fridge.  I prepared an ice bath in our cooler and that quickly brought the temperature down.  If you're more organized, you can skip this step and just let the brine cool normally and then put in the fridge.

Brine in the ice bath

In general, I think you'd normally brine in a pot, but we found 2.5 gallon zip lock bags.  This was pretty cool, since the bag could be shaped to ensure the that chicken is completely submerged

Chicken in the giant bag

Added in half the brine

We stored half the brine to be used for next chicken

Brine set aside

To accompany our chicken we made maple-glazed carrots (based off this recipe:  Laura also made buns, but she'll blog about those separately.

Carrots boiled in water + sugar + salt until soft
Various sources I read online had differing opinions on whether the brined bird should be rinsed.  Thomas Keller suggested rinsing and reasoning, so that's what I did.

Rinsing the brined bird
We seasoned and trussed the chicken and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  The chicken goes into the oven at 475° and cooks for about 40 minutes.  We have a digital read thermometer - it should cook until the temperature reads about 158° - while resting it'll get up to the desired 165°.  Also note that after about 15 minutes or so, check how the chicken is browning.  If it's browning too quickly, cover it with some aluminum foil

Seasoned, trussed chicken

While the chicken was the oven, we finished off the carrots - some butter, maple syrup, brown sugar and toss the carrots in the mixture.

combining butter, maple syrup and brown sugar

heat the carrots in the mixture

The carrots were pretty good - I think i'd tweak this recipe a bit in the future though.  I'd use less butter and perhaps a touch more sugar.

Maple-glazed carrots!

Chicken looks like it's done!

Carving the chicken

I think all around, we agreed that the brining was a huge success - the chicken was very tasty and moist. Laura, a gravy-lover, said that the chicken was so good that it didn't need gravy at all. We ate the whole chicken between three of us and picked the bones clean!

Picking the bones clean

Since we had left over brine from Saturday, we brined another chicken on Sunday. Since the brine was already pre-made, it was much less work.

adding the brine to the chicken

Rinsing the chicken
Seasoning the chicken - this time, less salt, a lot more
pepper, and rosemary.

Nicely browned!

Chicken leg dinner

Chicken breast dinner
This time we had some leftovers - so I guess I know what Laura's going to be having for lunch tomorrow!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Indian night: Saag and chicken curry

Saag is one of my favorite indian dishes. We almost always get it when we go to Rajjot.  I figured that it was about time for me to give it a try myself.  I based my recipe loosely off of the one found here:, although we had some variations -- we didn't include chicken in the saag, I doubled most of the spices, and I added in a couple thai chilies.

Saag is a spinach-based dish. By the time the spinach is cooked down and then blended, a huge amount of spinach becomes a small bowl of saag.  We used 6 bunches of spinach ( we tried to use avoid using the stems, but I think this was more work than it was worth).

The spinach filled our kitchen sink to the brim!

I boiled the spinach in batches - I think in total, we had three or four full pots of spinach.

Spinach just after it was added to the boiling water.

A few minutes later, there's almost nothing left.


The base consists of garlic, onions, ginger, tomatoes,  salt, cayenne pepper, ground coriander, turmeric, cloves and cardamom. In retrospect, I think I should have blended this to give a smoother texture - our saag ended up with little lumps of onion and tomato that, which wasn't quite what I wanted.

The spinach paste is the added to that mix. The recipe says to cook about 15 minutes longer.  We had some after about 15 minutes, and I kept the rest cooking longer.  I actually preferred the saag that was cooked a little longer.

As an accompanying dish, I tried my hand at creating a chicken curry.  I had no idea what I was doing, but it actually turned out quite well!.

I started with a lot of spices.  I don't quite remember what in this mix - but I believe they are:

dark brown at the top:  pasilla ancho chili (a chocolaty, smokey mexican chili)
bottom right:  cumin
bottom left, yellow:  tumeric
center, orange/brown: garam masala
top left, orange:   very hot mexican chili powder.

I think I also added clove powder later on, as well as a few pieces of star anise, cardamom and bay leaf.

I added some oil and water and mixed this into paste

And combined it with tomato paste.

I cooked up some onions and garlic and added in the paste.

Finally, I added in cut up chicken breast.

The end result was surprisingly good!  I had not real expectations, but Laura said the curry was as good as any we'd had at rajjot before!

Laura cooked some paratha (we bought them and the indian grocery store - they're pre-made, all we needed to do was heat them in the skillet).

Overall - the meal was a big success. I'd definitely give this a try again!

Fish Box #4: Fried garlic petrale sole

This was our last fish box we got before the end of the fishing season. It was fillets of Petrale Sole. Jerome had just gotten a new cookbook - The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria. He's the chef for El Bulli, the craziest restaurant in the world! Anyways it has all these recipes in photo form that are pretty straight forward and that give you time lines etc for a 3 course meal. So we attempted Fried Fish with Garlic

The Sole after being rinsed and patted dry. 

Step by step photos in a step by step description!! 

Start by frying some sliced garlic in a small amount of oil. 

Drain the garlic from the oil and get it all of so it doesn't get soggy. 

Jerome Concentrating very hard on pan frying the fish. 

We decided to leave the skin on. It got fairly crispy, and was pretty tasty and is supposed to be pretty good for you. You top the fish with the garlic and a dressing of sherry vinegar and some olive oil. It was okay, not spectacular though. We were a bit sad. I think part of it is that the fish wasn't as flavourful as some of the other fish and we didn't quite master the pan frying. The texture of the garlic was interesting, but not very deep in flavour. Overall not our best/tastiest fish box. Now that the seasons over and there won't be any fish boxes for a while we're going to try and keep buying fish every few weeks and keep trying new things as the fish boxes helped us get more confident in cooking and knowing what types of fish we enjoy. 


Boerenkool is a dutch dish that I ate fairly often while I was growing up.  It consists of potatoes mashed with kale, served with gravy and smoked sausage (rookwurst).  It's very easy to make - it's all done in a single pot.  I don't remember what proportions we used, but I think it's approximately:

  • 5-6 potatoes, cubed
  • 1 large bunch of kale
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • gravy
  • smoked sausage
  • pickles

Start by peeling and cubing the potatoes.  The potatoes should be added to the a pot of cold water and heated from cold.  Once the potatoes start cooking, roughly chop the kale and dice the onion.  Once the water start boiling, throw in the onion, kale, bay leaves and sausage.

We started by cubing potatoes, and throwing them in to our pot to heat
up with the water.
Meanwhile, we cut up a large bunch of kale

Onions and kale, ready to go

When the water starts boiling, add in the kale, onions
and bay leaf

Add the sausage on top

We brought back some spicy gravy from Albert Heijn
when we visited Holland  last year.

The sausage is already cooked and the onions and kale cook quickly - all you're really waiting for is the potatoes to cook through. Once cooked, remove the sausage and bay leaves (if you can find them).  Drain the water, add butter and mash and season!

We made gravy from a spicy gravy packet we picked up in holland when we visited last year, but in theory any brown gravy is fine.

Mashed potatoes & kale

Cutting up the sausage

Finished plate:  boerenkool shaped into volcano, filled with gravy,
served with  sausage and pickles.

Next time, we're going to have to try zuurkool - it's the same idea, but rather than kale, sauerkraut is added to the mashed potatoes!