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

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