Saturday, January 10, 2009


To my readers,

Since this past Wednesday, I have been officially "unplugged" from the digital world when a icy branch interrupted my broadband internet service. I hope to finish my Chicken Salad Part 3 post at home and upload them on Monday at my local library.

Hope you are all safe and warm! bjh

Friday, January 2, 2009

Chicken Salad Part 2: Poaching the Chicken

How do you cook chicken for chicken salad?

Most people make chicken salad when they have leftover chicken from a previous meal.

PROBLEM #1: I don't have leftover chicken.

PROBLEM #2: I have skinless, boneless chicken breasts, naked and vulnerable. Many cooking methods will make it tough and crusty on the outside and add an unwelcome chewy texture to my chicken salad.

SOLUTION? I will poach my chicken.

Poaching is a process of cooking meat in a simmering liquid until cooked through. The cooking liquid can be anything, really--even oil. However, since our chicken has obtained plenty of flavor from its brine, we will use a neutral medium-- water.

If you remember from "Part 1", we have already removed my chicken from its brine and patted it dry, removing most of the brining herbs and spices (you can remove the rest after the meat is cooked).

Now, to start poaching, take a NEW saucepan and fill it with enough cold water for the chicken to be submerged, about half-full.

Insert the chicken into the cold saucepan...

And turn the heat to medium.

Once you see tiny bubbles coming to the surface of the heating water...

Cover the chicken, turn the temperature to low (or even off), and wait for 10 minutes.

Insert a thermometer into the chicken to see if it has reached a temperature between 160º and 165º F.

At that point, remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and place it on a plate to rest. It will continue to cook over the next 10-15 minutes and it will reach an internal temperature of 5-10º higher, signifying fully cooked but not dried out chicken.

Allow the chicken to cool to room temperature. The safest way to do this is to loosely cover the chicken and place the it in the refrigerator until it reaches room temperature.

After the chicken is cooled, you can dice or shred the chicken meat for your dish.

Tomorrow--the conclusion to our Chicken Salad Saga! bjh

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Chicken Salad Part 1: Brining makes it BETTER

Got brine?

Then you have the potential for moist, flavorful chicken salad. And that takes chicken salad from a potential "meh" to a definite "yum."

Before we get started, I need to clarify a few things.

First, brining meat is not pickling, per se. Although the liquid used for pickling foods is rightly called a "brine," it is a different kind of brine. Also, how something is pickled and how long it must remain in the pickling brine is much different than our brining process. Also, our brining doesn't make the meat taste salty or pickled--it makes meat tastier. Click here to learn more about pickling.

Second, brining meat is not the same as marinating. While marinating flavors the outside of the meat, brining both tenderizes the meat and adds flavor. For a more detailed explanations of the brining process we will be using, click here or here.

Starring in today's brining session...

Salt, Honey, Bay Leaves, Peppercorns, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, and Rosemary. Not pictured: Water.

Our brining subject?

Chicken breast.

NOTE: Brining works really well with any type of meat--other poultry, beef, wild game, pork (except ham), fish, or shellfish.

Ready? Let's begin.

Since I plan to brine two chicken breasts in a medium-sized saucepan...

I will use 2 cups of water, 1/2 cup of honey, and 1/3 cup of kosher salt.

For our purposes (to tenderize and add flavor), our brining liquid must contain two ingredients: water and salt. If you have NOTHING else besides these two ingredients, you will still tenderize and add some flavor.

I use more salt than the "basic formula" due to personal preference--I still don't have "salty" chicken.

I also like to add some kind of sugar to my brine for flavor. I have used white sugar, honey, brown sugar, molasses, or a combination of the above. Use whatever you have on hand.

And to bring out even more flavor in the chicken, I have added herbs and spices that will complement both chicken and the end result--chicken salad. If your end result is NOT chicken salad but an Asian stir fry, make a brine with sake, honey, salt, garlic, coriander seed, and lemongrass. If you're making a Tex-Mex dish, use a brine of beer, salt, molasses, garlic, red pepper flake, cumin, and coriander. If you abstain from alcohol, use fruit juices, water with a squeeze of 1/2 a lemon or lime, or some kind of stock or broth.

Turn a burner on low to medium low heat. What we want to do is simply dissolve the salt and honey into the water. Boiling is unnecessary.

Combine the water, honey, salt...

Whole peppercorns, dried rosemary, a bay leaf, onion powder, and garlic powder in a medium saucepan. (The only spices I would be careful to measure are the stronger ones like peppercorns, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, and cloves--ones where a little goes a long way.)

Stir to combine. When the salt and honey have dissolved...

Cool the brine to at least room temperature. Adding ice/cold water or using the refrigerator to cool down the brine are all safe methods for cooling the brine.

Add the rinsed chicken to the brine, making sure it is completely submerged in the brine, and refrigerate at least 3 hours to overnight. (A larger piece of meat would warrant a longer period of time to brine.)

When ready, remove the chicken from the brine, pat dry with paper towels and get ready to cook our chicken!

Stay tuned for Part 2! bjh