Brined and Fine: The Best Chicken Around

It was the summer of ’06, and I was in the midst of changing hormones, understanding my femininity, and rebelling at almost every level. My friend’s mother surprised us with a trip to NYC to go shopping for clothes—the ultimate dream of any fifteen year old girl. It was our last shopping day and we stumbled upon an outdoor sale of massive proportions. I had just purchased a “totally authentic” Juicy Couture pink track suit (we all remember those, right?) and I was getting a bit hungry. Ignoring my friend’s mother’s strict instructions to not eat any of the street food—whenever the carnival came around town she also gave warned us about talking to the “carnies”, so full of wisdom was Mrs. Fontaine—I stole away to a chicken stand when she wasn’t looking. Placed haphazardly on bamboo sticks, the chicken was juicy and fragrant, with hints of pink insides and oozing green pus (which my friend said reminded her of her infected belly button ring); hunger inspires stupidity in man. Neglecting the obvious signs of salmonella, I munched away greedily. Mrs. Fontaine was less than impressed and I spent the next ten days firmly glued to the toilet seat, unable to keep in Gatorade or broth, regretting that oh so delicious and misguided decision.

Out of fear, I didn’t eat chicken for many months. My mom forced me to start eating it again, but I always found it too dry. If only I could find a chicken recipe that would match the juiciness of the chicken from the street vendor, but spare me the week of lower intestinal havoc. Although I’ve made many satisfying chicken recipes over the last several years, I think this one just has to be number one. The inside was juicy and flavorful—a bit salty but not terribly overpowering. The skin was soft, but not gooey, and absolutely succulent; move aside, crispy rotisserie chicken skin, for there’s a new hen in town.

What really made this humble poultry the piece de resistance was a slow, 30 hour marinating brine bath.

Check out this article for the science behind the wonderful world of brining.

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This recipe was featured on Smitten Kitchen (so you know it’s going to be good) and she slightly adapted it from Nigella Lawson.

2 cups buttermilk (or soy “buttermilk)**
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika, plus extra for sprinkling (I used Hungarian, a smoked one would also be delicious)
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken parts (we used all legs)
Drizzle of olive oil
Flaked or coarse sea salt, to finish

Whisk buttermilk with garlic, table salt, sugar, paprika and lots of freshly ground black pepper in a bowl. Place chicken parts in a gallon-sized freezer bag (or lidded container) and pour buttermilk brine over them, then swish it around so that all parts are covered. Refrigerate for at least 2 but preferably 24 and up to 48 hours.

When ready to roast, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking dish with foil (not absolutely necessary, but Nigella suggested it and I never minded having dish that cleaned up easily). Remove chicken from buttermilk brine and arrange in dish. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, then sprinkle with additional paprika and sea salt to taste. Roast for 30 minutes (for legs; approximately 35 to 40 for breasts), until brown and a bit scorched in spots. Serve immediately

**If you don’t know where to buy buttermilk (or need to go with the non-dairy alternative) you can make something similar. For every cup of milk, put in one tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir together and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes. You’ll notice it starts to curdle. There, now you have butter milk’s first cousin, so there is no excuse not to try this out!

Throw  together some pan seared vegetables, a plump sweet potato (I won’t tell anyone if you want to use a bit of butter and cinnamon), and you’ve got yourself a hearty dinner that’s sure to make your taste buds gyrate!

Peel Away ❤

Jocellyn

Slow Cookers: The Imaginary Chef in the Kitchen

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Apologies if this offends you, but for months slow cookers screamed mom status—much like the mighty casserole, which I refuse to make unless I have some Rugrats under foot. Slow cookers sang the (reasonable) defeated cries of the woman tired of carting her kids back and forth to extracurricular activities; the woman who was just trying to get something onto the table. A slow cooker just wasn’t for me. I was young, energetic, with time on my hands and a passion for frantic kitchen forays. And then I looked at my school schedule, and my upcoming work schedule (26 hours a week, baby), and realized perhaps the slow cooker, the original set it and forget it machine, needed to have a supporting role in the kitchen.

Prejudice aside, the wheels started turning. Why, I could throw everything into it during the morning, go to class, come back to check in, and go about my day. Six to eight hours later I would have a fragrant smelling home and enough food to last me throughout the week. My weekly soup obligation started to seem like less of a hassle, and, of course, the 21 year old in me saw the potential of still having a hearty dinner(s) during the weekend, despite a moderate hangover. Seeing as I have to pass through the kitchen to reach the bathroom, the hallowed resting spot for the all mighty Tylenol bottle, even angry at the world, mildly still inebriated me could toss a few things into the slow cooker and go back to bed. Hallelujah!

I was in no position to buy a slow cooker, so casually I called my mom, asked her about her life and nonchalantly asked if she, oh, had an unused slow cooker around. She did. And it’s probably older than me, because I have never seen her use it. Sturdy and made before the time of planned obsolescence, the old gal started up fine.

In keeping in line with frugal meals, I chose a spicy black bean soup. The ingredient list was simple: a pound of black beans soaked overnight, some spices, and good quality chicken broth made sweet kitchen love for six hours. Much like the rice and beans, the soup was humble looking, but surprisingly pleasant on the taste buds. While I don’t think anyone under the age of 30 should resort to making a tuna casserole (or any sort of casserole), I think all 20-soemthings can find a place in their heart—and kitchen—for this safe and efficient appliance.

Peel Away ❤

Jocellyn