The Secret to Juicy Poultry
Many home chefs would never cook a steak without marinating it first, but they neglect to do one something similar to improve their poultry: Brine it.
Brining poultry is very like marinating steak; it makes the food more tender and moist. It’s also easy to do, as long as you plan ahead a little.
Give it a try, next time you prepare your favorite poultry recipe.
What is Brine?
Brine is traditionally just a mixture of water and salt. Kosher salt is usually preferred, but sea salt may also be used. In a pinch, table salt without iodine is appropriate. But remember, table salt tastes much more “salty” than kosher or sea salt, so you’ll need to use less of it when making your brine.
How to Make Brine
There are no hard and fast rules here, but if you look at traditional recipes for brine, they are usually heavy on salt. (About ¾ pound of salt for every gallon of water.) This is because brining was frequently used as a method of preservation.
Since you probably don’t need to preserve your poultry, you won’t need to use nearly as much salt. Therefore, considering dissolving about 2 cups kosher salt into every gallon of boiling water used.
How to Brine Poultry
Begin by completely thawing the bird and removing any giblets. Rinse the bird and pat it dry. Place the bird in the container and submerge it in completely cooled brine.
The trick here is making sure the bird is completely submerged in brine—and that you keep it refrigerated. (It’s not safe to brine poultry at room temperature.) In most cases, a large, sealable plastic bag works well, but you can also purchase brining bags from some kitchen stores. Plastic or stainless steel kitchen containers are fine, too.
If you just don’t have room in the refrigerator, some sources suggest using a thoroughly cleaned cooler. This is only an option if you have time to check the bird’s temperature every half hour. It must never get warmer than 40 degrees F. If you want to go this route, begin by filling the cooler with ice one day ahead of time.
The following day, remove every bit of the ice (and any water that may be in the bottom of the cooler) and place the bird inside. Completely submerge the bird in brine. Place the ice in sealable plastic bags and put as many as possible inside the cooler. Remember to check the temperature of the cooler frequently – and to disinfect the cooler when you’re all done brining.
Keep a 4 lb. chicken submerged in brine for about 4 or 5 hours. Chicken pieces may be brined for an hour or two.
A turkey needs about a day to brine, while a Cornish game hen needs only about an hour. Never over-brine, since there’s no effective way to counteract the brine if the bird gets too salty.
How to Cook Poultry
Once you’ve let the bird “brew,” rinse it twice and refrigerate it until you’re ready to cook. Do not salt the bird before cooking. Since brined poultry cooks faster than poultry that hasn’t been brined, always use a meat thermometer to test for doneness.
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