By Kim Dannies
Life is full of contradictions, and chicken is no exception. For example, while trying to eat healthier and buying local organic chicken, I’ve finally noticed that the free-range/organic varieties are drier than their commercially processed counterparts. While the flavor of the local bird is a bit better, the meat is less succulent than a supermarket chicken, dries out like crazy on the grill and crumbles on the carving board.
What’s a health and cost conscious cook to do? Marinating—my strategy for too long now—does not work. I stepped back and took a hard look at my prep habits, had a “come to Jesus moment,” and then I made some changes. My soul searching led me to a simple solution to the chicken conundrum: the basics of brining and spicing. Giant chicken processors brine their chickens before sending them to market. Brining is like marinating, but instead of an oil-based bath, the chicken soaks in seasoned salt water. During that time, the flesh of the chicken absorbs and holds water. The bad news is that the brining process makes commercial chicken cost more than it should; the good news is that a moister, fatter organic chicken is now in my palate’s future.
The process is super simple and I ended up with the most amazingly succulent chicken. By adding a spice element to the process, plus some killer BBQ sauce as a finish, I was rewarded with moist, flavorful chicken worth raving about. Reflection and reevaluation of habits is always a good exercise for a cook’s stomach—and her soul.
Brined BBQ Chicken
In a large bowl combine 8 cups of water with 3 tablespoons salt, 3 garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Add 3 pounds of chicken breasts, thighs and legs. Cover and place in fridge 2-4 hours.
When ready to grill, place a colander in the sink and pour brine and chicken through. Rinse chicken and place on a paper towel, pat dry. Heat grill to medium high for 10 minutes.
Combine 1 tablepoon each (up to 4) of your favorite seasonings (chili powder, curry, cumin, coriander, all-spice, etc.) Any combination will do. I like to mix Shelburne’s Teeny Tiny Spice Co. blends together. Coat the chicken in the spice mix; grill for 5 minutes per side. Place grilled chicken in heavy-duty foil, drizzle on favorite BBQ sauce; seal, rest chicken for ten minutes.
Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three twenty-something daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.