Grilled Chicken – Also, a Little Extra About Brines

Posted by on Jun 12, 2012 in Culinary 101, Dinner, Food Journal

Grilled Chicken – Also, a Little Extra About Brines

Brines - A couple of weeks ago I was invited to one of the local high schools to do a cooking demonstration. Before the demo started, I was talking to one of the assistants in the class, Bob. He was super nice. Anyway, he had asked me how to keep chicken breast moist when you grill it and I had told him that I have a really great little brine recipe that I put my chicken in. I had also told him that after the demo I would write the recipe down for him. Unfortunately, I totally forgot. So, Bob, I hope you see this article because I’m going to include that recipe in it. OK, that said, brines marinades and dry rubs are a great way to add flavor to meats and also in some cases help them to retain their moisture. Someone asked me recently if you can marinade, dry rub or brine any type of meat. My opinion on that is simple – you can, but you shouldn’t. Here’s what I mean. If you have something like say chicken breast that you know is going to dry out on the grill, yes, do something about it. Brine it. Or, if you have some beautiful ribs (which do have great flavor on their own) but you want them to be a certain style like cajun. Marinade or dry rub them. So then you ask me, “well, when do you only use salt and pepper?” Which by the way is called “seasoning the meat”.  The easy answer is “don’t do anything to meat that doesn’t need anything done to it”. Not to over-simplify. Here’s an example. If you have a delicious filet mignon, you don’t need to do anything but use salt and pepper. You can do more (like a black pepper rub for instance), but you don’t have to. The meat doesn’t need any help and if cooked properly, will be beautiful on it’s own. Another good example is Salmon. It really doesn’t need any help if you’re starting with a nice piece of meat. I know the trend right now is to cover the Salmon in a Teriyaki Glaze, but that’s a glaze, not a brine, marinade, or dry rub. It is also, in my opinion, overdone at this point. I think every chain restaurant around has one on the menu. I always see the ads – do you think they all chipped in on the same commercial clip :) – it seems like it. OK, I know, off the subject so let’s get back to it.

Brines – Technically, a brine is a cure. Brining is the method you use when you immerse a food (like beef) into a solution (the brine) of curing ingredients (usually salt and/or sugar) dissolved in water. Brines are used to preserve anything from veggies to fruit to fish and other types of meat. They are also used in the process of pickling and of making feta and a few other cheeses.  They were used more in the past then they are now as preservatives, but they are still used in this way. Brisket is a good example of a cut of beef that is brined (and somewhat preserved).  That’s how we get pastrami and corned beef – yummy! Like when you make pastrami, you can let your beef soak for up to 3 weeks in some cases.  I don’t really ever use a brine as a preservative personally  but I think I may venture to make my own pastrami one day. I’ll post if I do – of course.  But the real reason that I want to talk about brines is that they are great for meat that doesn’t retain moisture well. This is because salt and sugar both retain moisture. I have already mentioned that I do this with my chicken breast. You can also brine (for flavor and moisture) other poultry, pork and beef too.  I  love, love, love to brine my pork chops. I use a little apple juice sometimes in my pork brine too (am I crossing in to a marinade?, maybe a little), just FYI.  So, how do I make my brine for my chicken breasts? Well, here’s my very simple recipe. Also, don’t worry, I’ll do an article soon on dry rubs and marinades :D!

3 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon cumin (optional, you will be able to taste the cumin in the final dish if you use it (otherwise what would be the point huh?))
2 cups hot water
chicken breast (this recipe is for 1-2 pounds)

1. Mix the salt, sugar and cumin if you’re using it into a small mixing bowl.
2. Add 2 cups of hot water and stir to dissolve.  Allow to cool (you can also add a few ice cubes to speed things up).
3. Add the chicken breast to the cooled liquid (it doesn’t have to be cold, just not hot anymore).
4. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours. I put mine in a gallon baggie and then a bowl.
5. Grill your chicken breast until it’s done (internal temperature of 165°). Do not sprinkle it with salt first, the brine took care of that. I usually pull mine off of the grill at about 160°F and put them on a plate and cover the plate with foil to allow them to carry over cook to 165°F. This helps to avoid overcooking. Of course, I am in no way recommending that you under – cook your chicken, I’m just telling you what I do. If you’re wondering how you can tell the temperature of your chicken. The answer is easy. Use a thermometer. The way to learn to do it without a thermometer is to take the temperature and then feel it with your finger. Push down and really feel the texture, and how firm it is. Do this often and eventually, you will be able to do it by feel for the most part. I do still recommend checking with a thermometer though until you are super sure of your skills. Also make sure you are taking the temperature in the thickest part of the meat and that the thermometer is in far enough. Don’t stick it in like your stabbing it in the heart, but more like you’re trying to make it into a popsicle. Does that make sense? So like stab it long ways, you know.
6. Now, let your chicken “rest” for a few minutes before you cut into it. You should actually do this with any meat. It allows the juices to redistribute.
7. Serve the yummy chicken how ever you want. I had a salad with this particular chicken, but this is also how I make my chicken if I’m serving Puerto Rican rice and beans, or arroz con gandules (except I saute it for that), chicken sandwiches, etc, etc, you get the point.

Here’s a picture of my yummy salad I made. It has cucumbers, cherry tomatoes (organic), corn, red kidney beans, the yummy chicken and a little honey dijon dressing. It was super duper tasty!

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