Monday, August 07, 2006

The briney deep...

Not to long ago, I broke down and started buying Perdue Shortcuts pre-cooked chicken. Everytime I did so, part of me screamed in protest - not only was I buying a mediocre to decent convenience food chock full of salt and multi-sylabic preservatives, I was also paying around $5.50 a pound for something I could make for less than half the price. The crux of the problem was it's a convenience food. This was one less thing I had to worry about - just pull a bag of chicken out of the freezer and I was good to go. No fuss, no muss.

My mother has been raving about brining for the past few years. We both subscribe to Cook's Illustrated magazine, and almost every mention of chicken is accomanied by brining instructions. I've never had a real problem with overcooked dry chicken - my mom tends to cook everything for too long and underseasons it to boot, thus the brining saves us from eating dried-out flavorless chicken. Since I've always marinated mine using the handy-dandy method of chicken + ziplock bag + small bottle of Ceasar salad dressing method combined with the correct cooking time, my grilled chicken breasts have come out pretty well. A child, trying to improve our eating habits, and John's confession that he doesn't really like chicken that has been marinated in Ceasar salad dressing have all put the kabosh on this tried and true method. As a result, I've avoided grilled chicken as a staple for myself because I can't stand the taste of it reheated or cold.

A few weeks ago, I was determined to stop buying Perdue shortcuts and start making my own - spending all of that money on a convenience food was just too much for my inner hausfrau. After three tries, I think I've come up with a method that works, at least for my taste - chicken that I can happily eat cold the next day without having to force myself to chew. Here's what I did:

Brining solution

  • 2 quarts water

  • 1/2 c table salt

  • 1-2 Tbl California Garlic Powder

  • ~2 Tbl sugar

To this I added 5 lbs of split chicken breasts and allowed it to soak for about 40 minutes. I removed each breast and rinsed it well and put it aside for grilling. Since I was barbecuing some of it, I used a dry rub on those. After the chicken had been grilled and cooled, I removed the skin, peeled the meat from the bone and cut it into strips. To give it a bit of sparkle, I tossed the cut chicken with a tiny bit of lime juice. The result is a chicken that is great both cold or hot and doesn't need a heavy sauce to cover that reheated-chicken taste.

The first two times I did this, I used boneless breasts. The last time I used split breasts. Granted, I did change the brining solution a bit, but I am much happier with the split breasts. The bone and skin really help prevent the chicken from being overcooked in some spots to raw in others. Once the breasts are cool, it's really easy to bone them, not nearly the pain you would think. The clincher is that I can get split breasts for $.99/lb at BJ's compared to $2.50/lb for boneless.

Enjoy and let me know if you like it!