Sunday, July 1, 2012

How to brine a chicken


Dorking Rooster using a brine solution.
Tender, flavorful, and juicy.
If you do not brine, you should.
I brine, therefore I am.

Brining adds incredible depth and flavor to any cut of meat, but especially to those tough, cheap cuts that are usually hard to work with.

I have cooked approximately eight home grown chickens now, and exactly one of them has been exceptional. I raise Dorkings which are a slow grown, hearty bird with dramatically dark flavorful meat. Each one I have cooked has placed the bar well above a store bought chicken, but only one had me begging for more: a year old Dorking rooster who mistakenly put his spurs up to my daughter and met his fate the following morning. Usually a vigorous rooster of this age would be very chewy and tough. I was worried he would be unpalatable, so I finally tried using a brine. I have had an aversion to brining under the assumption that it would take away the flavor of the meat and instead make it salty. I am a cook who prefers the true flavor of the food, not the mandatory masking of salt and pepper. I wish I did not wait all this time to try brining, the results were remarkable.

I did some research on what brining actually does to the meat, since I can never settle for 'It just works.'

FYI It works like this:
  1. Meat cells contain a concentration of salt.
  2. The brine that the meat is soaking in has a higher concentration of salt than the cells in the meat.
  3. Through the magic of osmosis the concentration level of the salt in the meat cells and the concentration level of salt in the brine attempt to balance.
  4. The water transfers from the meat cells to try to balance the concentration of the salt solution between the cells and the brine.
  5. The water in the cell moves from the cell to the space surrounding the cell so the ratio of salt to water within the cell is at a higher concentration which will balance with the solution that it is soaking in.
  6. This might seem confusing as it appears through basic osmosis the meat would end up dry and salty, however, there is more than just osmosis taking place here...
  7. As water moves out of the cells salt moves in and begins to break down some of the proteins in the meat cells.
  8. Cell membranes are semipermeable and allow both salt and water to flow back and forth freely.
  9. To make things even more complex, larger molecules like denatured proteins and other solutes the meat released by the salt cannot pass through the cell barrier.
  10. So... This transfer of salts and water back and forth 'trap' the larger solutes and proteins until the pressure from holding more solvent equals the rate at which the solvent is moving through the semipermeable membrane, this is the definition of osmotic pressure.
  11. Brining actually changes the state of the cells so they hold more water than they did before, resulting in tender and juicy cuts of meat.
  12. If you brine for too long the meat will taste quite salty, but still edible.
Since I had no prior experience with brining, and I was of course worried this rooster would be too tough to eat, I actually let the bird brine for a week straight. As far as #12 on the how it works list goes, that is straight from experience. Yes the rooster was salty, it was very very tender, but still exceptionally tasty.

Basic Recipe

A basic brine consists of 1/2 cup - 1 cup of kosher salt per gallon of water. Kosher salt because it is usually an inexpensive choice.
The brine solution varies depending on the structure of meat and the time you plan to brine.
More salt typically means less time brining.
Place the meat in the solution using a non reactive container (stainless steel, plastic, ceramic...) and keep in the refrigerator, or at approximately 40 degrees for 2 - 6 hours.
Meat should be completely covered in brining solution, rinse meat after brining is complete, and do not reuse the brine solution.

Flavorful Recipe
This is the recipe that I used for a very tough rooster and it turned out tender, juicy, and full of flavor

1 gallon water
1/2 cup kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup olive oil

Stir all ingredients in a large non reactive container until dissolved. 
Place the meat in the solution making sure the brine covers all of the meat.
Refrigerate anywhere from 4 hours to overnight, or for a saltier taste and very tender meat you can even leave the meat in the brining solution for several days.

Not much left it was so good! 


7 comments:

Justine said...

I love this!

Chez Nous Farms said...

Hi I have been trying to find some info on raising heritage birds for meat. Everything online seems to point to NO. From what i have been able to scrape up..i was also thinking Dorking as a choice. I see you have had some experience and i am wondering if you still recommend it. We also raise the classic Cornish Meat Bird but i want to try something else even if it's only small scale.

Admin said...

If you're trying to profit from raising chickens for meat, then heritage breeds just don't work for that. Most people are not willing to pay the extra price. But if you're looking for gourmet flavor nothing can match the Dorking - I am a bit bias though. You can have a Dorking with enough weight to butcher at 4 months, but they are much heavier in the breast at 6-8 months. They have very dark meat with almost the flavor a pheasant would have. Great foragers - very smart birds.

Ava said...

I just butchered my first rooster yesterday. (Easter egger "breed") I wasn't sure how to cook him! He's just in the fridge now, but I'm going to go try this brine method. Here goes..... Thanks!

shlia said...

This is the best post i have seen about cooking a rooster. We raise our own chickens as well and we have few different types of Heritage breed. last year we raised chickens that we hatched ourselves and ended up with about 7-8 roosters. We choose to practice our slaughtering techniques on the roosters. I have a question about brining the rooster. Have you ever brined with apple cider vinegar? My thought is to let the chicken rest in ACV for 24 hours then switch out to a brine for 24 hours. 2 day process, I once worked with a chef that would let his chicken soak in ACV for 24 hours before making fried chicken for family meal. Sadly i never asked him the whole process he did, so i was wondering what your thoughts would be. Haven't found much in my research online.

Admin said...

Shila thanks for the comment. I just love the gamey rich taste that a rooster has compared to a store bought chicken. Completely different experience.

In my opinion the brining is necessary though! They are so rough and tough to cook.

I have not tried ACV, but in theory it does seem like it would work really well! I think I might give it a try next time, or at least half ACV and salt water brine?

Thanks for the idea!

Logical DNA said...

Thanks for your valuable posting about Poultry Solutions it was very informative.

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