My family and I probably eat chicken more than any other type of animal protein. Given current conditions in the poultry industry, that chicken is now free-range and organic, but it is the preferred meat of choice on the Team Taylor family table.
While organic poultry arguably has a cleaner and fresher taste than conventionally raised poultry, chicken still tends to be a fairly bland meat all around, and is also one that can be overcooked quickly. To guard against overcooking and to help this mild protein taste more “seasoned,” many chefs resort to brining, a method that helps to introduce more moisture and flavor into meats.
The most popular method to brine chicken, called “wet brining,” is to soak the meat in water which contains salt and, sometimes, a variety of other herbs or seasonings. The meat becomes more moist by hydrating the cells of its muscle tissue via a very technical process called osmosis. The salt is introduced into the cells and helps them hold onto their moisture, resulting in more hydrated and moist meat at the end of the cooking process.
And that’s all well and good, but … although the taste is improved, I personally cannot stand the texture of any meat that has been wet-brined, which is similar to a wet sponge. Blech. I am really texture-sensitive to my food—hence, my loathing for all dried beans and legumes, no matter how good they taste—so the change in texture in wet-brined chicken is, to me, not worth the boost in flavor.
So, I resort to dry-brining my chicken, which is simply sprinkling salt directly on the surface of the poultry and letting it sit, uncovered, in a refrigerator until I’m ready to cook it. The same process of osmosis takes place, but the salt does its job on its own without using water as a carrier into the meat.
It’s quick, neat, and doesn’t rely on finding a container large enough to hold both the meat and its wet brine (let alone finding the room to store that sucker in the refrigerator). Plus, the texture is unaffected, so you get all the benefits of “seasoned” meat without feeling like you are sinking your teeth into a piece of wet Styrofoam.
Dry-brining is quite popular in the restaurant industry: Judy Rodgers, chef and owner of San Francisco’s famous Zuni Café, salts both her meats and her vegetables when they arrive and lets them sit for an average of three days before using them in food preparation (and if you’ve seen Judy’s reviews lately, you’ll know why).
It’s a simple step and easy for the home cook to do, taking what might merely be a good dish and sending it into the realm of stellar food porn. Even one hour of dry-brining can make a world of difference (although, in most cases, three hours minimum is best for chicken pieces and a full eight hours for a whole chicken).
It is the rare carnivore who does not enjoy a fabulous and well-done roast chicken … a simple dish, but one of the hardest to perfect. Put this on your dinner table with some pan-roasted potatoes and a green salad and demand that your friends and family call you the food porn genius you are.
Tiffany’s Perfect Roast Chicken
(1) 4-lb. whole chicken, preferably organic and free-range, cleaned and patted dry
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Freshly ground black pepper
Sprinkle kosher salt inside and outside of chicken; place chicken breast side down on a v-rack in a roasting pan and put into the refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least eight hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Brush the back of the chicken with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. Roast, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Flip the chicken breast side up and brush with the remaining tablespoon of melted butter. Roast an additional 50-60 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 160°F.
Remove from the oven and let rest for 20 minutes. Carve and serve.