Leave it to Alice Waters and her crew at Chez Panisse to come up with a recipe that's so simple and so brilliant it brings out the best in chicken, pork, or turkey. They've created a brine with sugar, salt, and just a few seasonings that infuse loads of flavor into the meats. In fact, she used this brine on her Thanksgiving turkey and reports that it was marvelous.
To test how well the brine worked, I cooked two chickens side by side. One had been soaked in the brine for 24 hours, the other was simply roasted. Both cavities were filled with Italian parsley, preserved lemons, and onions, and cooked in a 400-degree oven.
The difference was remarkable. While the regular roasted chicken had a deeper, richer skin color, the brined chicken was plump and juicy, albeit a little anemic in color. But the flavor was amazing and it was the moistest chicken I can ever remember eating. The next day I warmed the leftovers and the regular chicken was even drier and had that typical day-old taste, but the brined chicken still tasted moist and fresh.
To achieve the browned skin you'll have to leave the chicken in the oven a little longer, but the meat will still be moist. We also tried a pork roast, brined for three days, and it came out fabulous, too. The leftovers were particularly good for sandwiches the next day.
The recipe makes enough brine for a large turkey. If brining only one chicken or a pork roast, cut the recipe in half.
2-1/2 gallons cold water
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup sugar
2 bay leaves, torn into pieces
1 bunch fresh thyme, or 4 tablespoons dried
1 whole head of garlic, peeled
5 whole allspice berries, crushed
4 juniper berries, crushed
Place the water in a large pot that can easily hold the liquid and the meat you intend to brine.
Add all the ingredients and stir for a minute or so until the sugar and salt dissolve.
Refrigerate poultry in the brine for 24 hours; pork for 3 days. If the meat floats to the top, use a plate or other weight to keep it completely submerged in the brine.
To cook chicken:
Stuff the cavity with onions, lemon wedges, and herbs such as thyme, parsley, and rosemary. Rub the skin with oil to help browning. Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. (Salt isn't needed because of the brine.) Cook uncovered in a 400-degree oven until done, about 1 hour and 15 minutes for a 3-1/2 to 4-pound chicken.
To cook turkey:
Stuff the cavity with lemons, herbs, and onions, if desired. Rub the skin with oil and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. Cook uncovered in a 400-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes per pound until the internal temperature at the thickest part of the thigh registers at least 165 degrees.
To cook a boneless pork roast:
Sprinkle the roast with pepper and herbs such as sage, thyme, or tarragon, if desired. Roast uncovered in a 400-degree oven for about 12 to 15 minutes per pound or until the internal temperature reaches 150 to 160 degrees.
Secrets of Success:
The brine. The brine infuses flavor into pork, chicken, and turkey and makes the meat tender and succulent.
The Secrets of Success Cookbook
Signature Recipes and Insider Tips
from San Francisco's Best Restaurants
By Michael Bauer
Chronicle Books, 2000
Recipe reprinted by permission.
Modified March 2007
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