Bring on the Moisture, Bring on the Brine!
Brining poultry, especially breast meat, adds moisture and flavor to the meat. Brining consists of preparing a salt water solution in a 1:8 cup ratio of salt to water. The bird is then soaked in the brine for a period of time, much like a marinade. To put it scientifically, the brine hydrates the muscle tissues allowing them to retain moisture during cooking which helps the meat stay moist.
You don’t have to be cooking a whole bird to use this technique. In fact, because boneless skinless chicken breasts dry out so easily during cooking, they benefit greatly from a quick (30 minute) soak in a brine solution.
The simple 1:8 cup ratio if salt to water can be enhanced by steeping fresh herbs in the liquid so as to infuse the meat not just with moisture, but flavor as well. Additionally, you can substitute part of the water for other liquids, such as lemon juice or apple cider.
You must keep the salt to liquid ratio the same, but you can increase or decrease the full amount in order to accommodate the size of what you plan to brine. The recipe below is for brining a whole chicken.
1 cup kosher salt
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
4 cloves garlic
3 cups water
5 cups ice cold water
Bring 3 cups water to boil in a pot. Mince the garlic. Remove the thyme leaves from stem, if using fresh. Add garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and salt to boiling water. Stir until all the salt has dissolved, and then turn off heat.
Allow mixture to steep for 30 minutes. Stir in 5 cups ice cold water. Pour the cooled brine into a heavy duty sealable zip top bag. Gallon sized freezer bags work great for small chickens. For a turkey, use a larger bag, such as a 1.25 ft. x 1.25 ft. zip top bag or a bag specifically designed for brining turkeys.
Submerge the bird into the brine, making sure the brine fills the cavity and that the breasts are fully submerged. Seal and place in the refrigerator.
Small chickens can be brined in just a few hours, 3 at most, where as a turkey should be brined for 12-24 hours.
After the brining time is up, remove the bird from the liquid, drain and pat dry. You will not need to salt the bird, but you may wish to place additional herbs underneath the skin, rub the bird with butter, and/or stuff the cavity with onion, carrot, and celery.
To roast: bird should start out roasting breast side down, this helps prevent dry white meat, followed by roasting breast side up. A perfect roasting is achieved best by monitoring the bird with a thermometer to ensure neither under or over cooking occurs. A temperature reading 165 degrees F indicates a safe done-ness for poultry. Allow bird to rest for 5 minutes before carving (10 minutes for a large turkey).