UnFoodie Discovers the Joy of Brining

By Karen

In spite of being a severely chicken-challenged cook, I eat a lot of it, mostly prepared from frozen bags. When I make it myself, it’s invariably dry and awful. But on a recent cruise vacation, I ate a melt-in-your-mouth chicken breast, and a fellow passenger suggested it had been brined.

That got me thinking…

I have this recipe for herb-brined, walnut-encrusted chicken that I mostly ignored (because I didn’t have the kosher salt; apple juice; ground coriander; fresh thyme, rosemary, and savory; and orange zest it required). But it gave me a basic plan of attack.

I bought 4 boneless thighs as a hedge against failure because they’re moister to begin with. I’ll tackle dry breasts another day.

Step 1: Make the brine.

Figuring sodium chloride is sodium chloride, into a saucepan I poured about 1/4 cup of sea salt into enough water to cover the chicken (4 cups maybe). Then I added a bunch of garlic powder. As an afterthought, I threw in dried rosemary and thyme, and some ground sage I’ve had for at least 20 years (it still had a smell, so, what the hell).

Heated the water just enough to dissolve the salt and garlic powder. Then I missed the instruction to cool it down with ice cubes before pouring it on the chicken. However, I did wonder if warm water would prematurely cook the chicken.

Step 2: Brine the chicken.

Laid the thighs flat in 2 Pyrex containers (with lids), then poured on the brine. The chicken edges did cook slightly. I put the covered containers in the fridge for about 5 hours. (Sorry the photo is blurry. New Nikon.)

As Emeril would say, this is when the chicken starts "getting happy."

As Emeril would say, this is when the chicken starts “getting happy.”

Step 3: Bread the chicken.

At dinnertime, I preheated the oven to 450 degrees, removed the chicken from the brine, rinsed in cold water, then patted dry with paper towels.

My wash was one egg white and a tablespoon of Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise, which immediately clumped and took a lot of stirring to smooth out.

I probably could have done without the glumpy mayo.

I probably could have done without the glumpy mayo.

After dipping, I slathered the chicken with panko breadcrumbs, about 3/4 cup.

Step 4: Bake the chicken.

The breaded chicken went on a Pam-sprayed sheet to bake for 20 minutes.

The crumbs didn't stick great, but well enough.

The crumbs didn’t stick great, but well enough.

Here’s the (blurry) finished product. (I need more practice with the Nikon’s “food” setting.)

Half-cup of rice, with 0-point tomatoes and a pickle on the side, Weight Watchers-style.

Half-cup of rice, with 0-point tomatoes and a pickle on the side, Weight Watchers-style.

Oh. My. God. It was a TOTAL success. So moist, I vowed on the spot to NEVER cook chicken again without first brining it. It wasn’t salty, and it held the spices’ flavors, which turned out to be DELICIOUS, ancient sage notwithstanding.

I had enough for 4 meals, and reheating it in the microwave or on the stovetop didn’t dry it out. Every piece stayed moist and tasty.

Consider me a brining convert.

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14 Responses to UnFoodie Discovers the Joy of Brining

  1. chinagirl says:

    Wow, looks great. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Britta says:

    Hello Karen and Kitties –you are preaching to the choir today. A friend got me brining my turkey about seven years ago. Now, I brine everything but steak…pork does well too. Fun to play with different spices and liquids. Apple and orange juice especially good for fall-type meals. Hope all is well! Working from home (happily) these days so perhaps I can better stay on top of my favorite blog.

  3. catsworking says:

    Britta, I would never have thought to brine pork. That’s something to try. But chicken was my big hurdle because I always manage to overcook it. I just finished it last night (after 4 dinners straight) but I didn’t mind, and actually looked forward to it, because it turned out so delish.

  4. adele says:

    Karen, it looks good, and I think that little bit of mayo, pain that it was, helped seal in the moisture. Roasting at high temperatures always helps the chicken stay juicy, I’ve found.

    I think you’re ready to tackle breasts now. I have some boneless skinless chicken breast cutlets in the fridge. Only wish I’d thought about this recipe sooner; I’d have fixed it for tonight.

  5. Zappa's Mom says:

    I’m excited to brine now!

  6. Teresa says:

    Looks great and you’ve inspired me to try brining. Your 20 year old sage story reminds me of a move I made a few years ago. While packing pantry items I found a box of corn starch that was so old that not only did the box not have an expiration date – it didn’t even have a bar code. Early ’80’s?!

  7. catsworking says:

    ZM, the recipe I had said to put the chicken in a plastic bag with the brine, which I usually do when I marinade, but because I wanted this chicken to have a good soak, I used the Pyrex because I could submerge the chicken and cover it easily. It’s such a simple step to salvage what might otherwise turn into an inedible meal, it’s totally worth doing.

    Teresa, I found the sage in my spice rack, which I haven’t used for years because I now keep the spices in their original containers in a cupboard. I’ve been in the house 26 years, and got the spice rack early on. I can’t imagine why I ever bought the sage in the first place, but there was almost a full jar of it. I’ve since tossed it and bought a fresh jar of “rubbed” sage, whatever that is. It isn’t as powdery.

    The spice makers really have us over a barrel, selling that stuff in such massive quantities, considering how much you use in any given recipe. I now look for McCormick spices in those little half-sizes they now sell, so I’ll have a prayer of actually using them up.

    I recently threw away remnants of a bottle of rubbing alcohol that I bought for mere pennies at People’s Drug, a chain that hasn’t existed in donkey’s years. I’d say it was early ’80s’ vintage.

  8. Zappa's Mom says:

    My Trader Joe’s plants an herb garden in front of the store.Or rather,they plant fresh herbs every summer in their flower beds. Every week,I pinch off some fresh mint,lavender, tarragon,etc. I seem to be the only customer who knows about it,so any DC CW readers,keep it to yourselves! There are a few of my neighborhood restaurants who plant herbs among their ornamental planters and I have “shopped” there as well.

  9. catsworking says:

    Oh, wow. How wonderful is that, ZM? I bet most people are like me, they wouldn’t recognize a spice from a weed. I would love to grow spices myself, but my yard is out of the question because the dirt is hopeless, and the cats would never give them a minute’s peace inside and my windowsills aren’t wide enough for pots. I used to grow lots of houseplants, but the late Yul ate all my African violets, the late Cleo once chomped on cactus and bled all over the drapes, and the late Fred almost poisoned himself on a dieffenbachia and ended up at the vet with a swollen mouth, so my plants have dwindled down to just 3 green living things, and even one of those gets occasionally attacked.

  10. MorganLF says:

    Ok I’m a slug, sorry been away but this brining thing has me curious. It seems to be the goods, and if it will make me eat chicken I’ll give it a whirl. Now I hack a couple of thick cut pork chops wondering if brining will apply? I do them in the same manor dredge then bread crumbs but they always require much applesauce so I’m off to research brining pork…. I’ll let you know my results.

  11. MorganLF says:

    Ok, I brined the chops. I used water, kosher salt, sugar and sage. Any spice will do. The brine solution has to be boiled then cooled. Then place the chops in the solution and REFRIGERATE. I brined for a day. When I made the chops, I dredged in beaten egg and panko, then I browned them in EVOO. I placed them on a cookie sheet and baked them @ 350 for a half hour. They were tasty, very…but I am tasting salt and I used none other than in the brining.

    I will do it again, but if tomorrow I wake up with a condition I call “ojos de Jamon” which means pink swollen eyes that I get whenever I eat a delicious salty ham, then all bets are off!

  12. catsworking says:

    Morgan, from what everybody tells me, brining pork works just as well, and I will be trying it myself. I just brined the rest of my boneless thighs and the result was just as juicy and delicious.

    Over the weekend, I had brunch out with a friend, and she ordered fried chicken and waffles, and said the chicken was the best she’d ever put in her mouth. I asked, “Do you think it’s brined?”

    She didn’t think so, but she asked the waiter what the secret was:

    He said, “We brine it overnight, then double-coat it with egg, crumbs, egg, crumbs before we fry it.

    Brining is amazing.

  13. catsworking says:

    Morgan, after I brine, I rinse the meat to get most of the salt off. Yes, the meat is slightly salty, but no more than I’d add myself.

    Were the chops really moist after cooking?

  14. MorganLF says:

    Yes, but I still had to have applesauce. I’m going to continue with brining as well Battali swears by it.

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