UnFoodie Discovers the Joy of Brining

May 8, 2013

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.


%d bloggers like this: