Sunday, July 10, 2011

Slow smoke-roasted herb brined chicken

The title says it all.

If you watch the TV cooking shows, you've heard talk about brine. If you haven't tried it, you should. A basic brine is a 5% salt solution. Sugar and aromatic herbs are often added to flavor the brine.

Brining was first developed as a method of curing and preserving meat. Corned beef is a brisket soaked in salt water and spices. Even a short brining can be an effective flavor enhancer. The salt changes the nature of the meat proteins and acts a a flavor transport. Flavors will be carried into the meat and the meat will remain juicier after cooking.

Recipe # 42 Herb-brined Cornish Game Hens

2 game hens (or one small chicken)
2 quarts of water
1 ½ ounces of kosher salt (about 3 tablespoons)
½ ounce sugar (about 1 tablespoon)
2 garlic cloves
4 rosemary sprigs
1 cut lemon (or tablespoon lemon juice)
Heat about a quart of water with the salt, sugar and aromatics until all the salt is dissolved. Add another quart of ice/cold water to cool the brine. The brine must be heated to dissolve the salt and infuse the solution with the herb flavors.

The brine must be cold before the chicken is added. Put the brine in the refrigerator for a while if necessary.

Butterfly (spatchcock) the chickens by cutting along the backbone. Put the chickens in a gallon zip lock bag. Add the brine mixture. Seal the bag with as much air removed as possible. Wait 3 to 4 hours. Brining longer than that for chicken may make the meat too salty.

Remove chicken from the brine. Blot dry with paper towels and let them rest/dry in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Letting them rest is essential for two reasons:
1) the salt will equalize in the meat. After the chicken is removed from the brine salt concentrations will be highest on the surface layers.
2) smoke flavor will "stick" better to the dry skin.

When you are ready to BBQ, arrange the coals for an indirect heat. Cook low and slow, 250 degrees for a couple of hours will result in juicy flavorful chicken. Add a glaze of favorite sauce during the last 1/2 hour.

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