A few years ago I caught the tail end of a very enthusiastic Nigella talking about Christmas food. She was explaining about brining Turkey. About why it made a difference, and why you should. I watched…fascinated and a little bemused. WHY would you want to dunk your poultry in a mix of salted, sugared, spiced water for 24 hour before you cooked it? But, I put the idea in a little file in my head to try when I next got the chance.
Sadly I didn’t get the chance that quickly. My mum was very poorly for a couple of years. She died last year. And my plans of a great Turkey Christmas were put on hold because I spent the last two Christmases at the hospital and then with my Aunt and her family rather than cooking for my brothers and my mum. However, there are always silver linings. I spent more time online than I would normally. I got to know a few people in the US. Some of them turned out to be passionate about food…and of course we shared ideas. I got recipes for brining, more information on how and why…and I’ve finally got round to trying. My American friends tell me that you can brine all sorts of meats. Chicken, Pork and Turkey are the normal suspects. But, thinking about it, of course, our own traditional Spiced Beef is a brined meat.
Today was my first attempt at Brining, and I’m rather impressed with the results. Here’s what I did
I heated about a pint of water with 4 tablespoons of salt and 4 tablespoons of molasses sugar. I then added 2 crushed cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of allspice, a teaspoon of ground black pepper and 2 pints of cold water. Once the mix had cooled I had my brine!
That was enough for my ‘small chicken’. I put the bird in a large glass bowl and poured on the brine. I weighted it down with a dinner plate and put the whole thing in the fridge for 4 hours.
Now, I was a little nervous about brining, so I went for the ‘shortest’ brining time (3-4 hours). Next time I will try an overnight 24 hour job. I just wanted to see how it worked.
I took the chicken out of the mixture and patted it dry with kitchen towel. Apparently you can also air dry the bird for a few hours in the fridge if you want a really crispy skin. But, I have a fan oven so I figured that might help. I made a ‘rub’ with rosemary, garlic, olive oil and oregano and coated the skin, putting the remaining mix in the cavity of the bird, along with a couple of bay leaves. Heated the oven to 200c and put the bird in for 15 minutes, before reducing the heat to 180c.
Here’s something to watch. I roast using a meat thermometer, so I don’t try to follow a precise time, rather I look for a temperature (180c for poultry) . I think my brined bird took about 15 minutes longer than I would have expected to reach ‘cooked poultry’ on my thermometer. Logically that is reasonable. The idea of brining is that the spiced salty sweetened water permeates the bird by osmosis. I’ve been told that the salt also changes the molecular structure of the meat. Whether that is true or not I don’t know…but clearly the bird is going to be plumped up with water and heavier. And that means the cooking time isn’t going to be what Waitrose recommends!
I had no problem getting a nice brown skin on my roasted brined chicken, although it wasn’t crispy. I tried to make a gravy as normal, using the pan juices and a little red wine and vegetable water. The result was really a bit salty so next time I think I’ll make a different sauce…or just not bother. I served the meat with runner beans and baby carrots from the roof terrace. I love being able to pick, cook and eat so that the vegetables are truly fresh. Yum!
The meat was not salty at all. It was genuinely more succulent and tender than normal. Not just the breast meat, but also the brown meat was moister and yet ‘denser’ . It did taste of something more ‘seasoned’. So, yes, I will try again. I’m not sure I’d bother for an everyday Chicken. But, I can imagine the effect on Turkey…and I’m curious about the effect on Pork (apparently you can brine pork chops too).
God Bless America…