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!

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