Brining chicken eliminates the disappointment of dry meat and makes it more forgiving of overcooking. This simple technique requires just three essentials: water, salt and time. Sea salt adds a subtle mineral quality to the final dish.
This method works just as well for turkey.
The correct ratio of water to salt is essential to a successful brine. A 5 percent sea salt solution contains enough salt to be effective without over salting the meat.
Measure sea salt by weight, not volume. The crystals are not uniform size, so 1 cup of sea salt could contain between 6 and 8 ounces of salt. Use a kitchen scale for accuracy. Weigh 50 grams of sea salt for each 1 liter of water.
You will need to use enough brine solution to fully submerge the chicken. This can vary depending on the size of the chicken and the vessel you are brining in, and whether the chicken is whole or cut up. You will need 3 to 4 liters of water for a 4- to 6-pound chicken.
There is some debate on whether or not flavoring your brine makes a difference in the taste of the final dish. Adding herbs, spices or aromatic vegetables is an entirely optional step in the process. These ingredients are largely a matter of personal preference. If you're pressed for time, don't hesitate to leave them out. Your chicken will still be moist and tender. If you have the time and ingredients on hand, toss in a few whole peppercorns and three to four cloves of garlic along with some tarragon and see which method you like better.
Brining takes a few hours to allow the salted water to penetrate the meat proteins, but if you plan ahead it doesn't take much effort.
Prepare the brine the day before you plan to cook.
Simmer the water, salt and aromatics if you decide to use them in a large pot until the salt is dissolved. Remove the brine from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Refrigerate it until it is cold.
Place the chicken in a large sealable container. Pour the brine over the meat, fully submerging it. Seal the container and refrigerate. Plan to brine the bird for at least 1 hour per pound of meat. The meant won't improve by extended brining, but it won't hurt it if you need to hold the chicken in the brine for a few extra hours. When you are ready to cook, remove the chicken from the brine and pat it dry.
A 2-gallon zip-top freezer bag works well for this process. Remove as much air as possible so the chicken stays covered by the brine.