3.3.11

Brining and Roasting a Perfect Chicken

Yes. Perfect. Bold words. I know. Usually when I cook, I find a billion mistakes. Roast chicken, however, is one of those things you can tweak and tweak and tweak and suddenly...it's perfect. I have such strong memories connected to this dish. I made it with my friends in college, for my hosts on farms...
 One particular memory stands out in my mind. I'm going to speak about Spain again. I know. Lot's of Spain this week. Probably because I took a book on Spanish cooking out of the library, haven't had time to read it, and have been staring at the cover, a picture of quince and membrillo, all week...
So, as I mentioned before, I spent a fortnight in the Extremadura region of Spain last October. What a magnificent area! I was helpxing on a finca right on the Portugese border.  My hosts were English expats who owned a small and lovely pub and restaurant.  I had such a nice time exploring the area, and my hosts brought me on lots of fun outings, to markets in nearby villages, meals at their pub, even a shopping excursion to Portugal! They were both fabulous cooks and we had lots of grand adventures in the kitchen, making everything from paella to Mexican hot chocolate ice cream to fresh pasta...
During my last few days on the finca, my hosts had a bunch of old friends come out to visit them from England. They threw a huge party and pretty much the whole village came! I got lots of practice on my Spanish that night...it's one of my favorite memories of over a year of traveling. The food that night was unbelievable. Most memorable was by far the jambon serrano...it was the best  I have ever eaten- and probably will ever eat. It was hand crafted, and from a friend of my hosts who owned a farm. But there were also enormous, juicy prawns, piquant chorizo, and olives that could not be believed. And that was just the beginning...
My hosts prepared an enormous roast dinner complete with a beautiful roast pork, spiced cabbage, potatoes...and so much more, but I'm blanking. It was so much fun; my hosts, their out of town guests and I all worked together in their beautiful kitchen to prepare the food, while consuming plenty of chocolate and beer! It's such a good memory. Anyway. The point of this all is that my hosts let me roast two chickens for the party. I did it my favorite way...by brining it! Brining a chicken not only adds a whole new level of flavor, but produces the juiciest bird ever. The difference is stunning, and it's really easy to do if you plan ahead a tiny bit. This is something that you could even throw together before  going to work, or class, or out for the day exploring, whatever you do. Just pop the chicken in your brine, go out, and when you come back, it's pretty much ready to go.

Roast Chicken
Ingredients
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of salt, plus a bit extra to season 
About a gallon of water
1 roasting chicken, giblets removed
1 tbsp butter, soft
1 lemon
Rosemary sprigs
Thyme, either dry or fresh 
Preparation
In a large container (I use a stockpot), dissolve your sugar and salt into the water. If you are using less water, you can use less of the sugar and salt, just make sure they are in equal parts.
Drop your chicken into the pot and refrigerate for 4-12 hours. If you've got extra time (which I never seem to), I've heard that letting the chicken air dry in the fridge overnight after it's salty bath produces much crispier skin. I believe this. But I've never had time to do it!
After your chicken has hung out in the brine for at least four hours, pull it out, rinse it off and dry it well.
Preheat your oven to 375F.
Place your chicken on a large baking sheet (breast side up) and rub it all over with butter. If you want, you can use oil (I would use a bit less), but butter adds phenomenal flavor...
Cut your lemon in half and stick one of the halves in the cavity, along with a couple rosemary sprigs.
Sprinkle thyme leaves all over the bird, season with (not too much) salt and plenty of pepper, and pop it into the oven!
After about twenty minutes, reduce the temperature to 350. 
Every fifteen minutes, brush the chicken with the fat that's collected in the pan.
Cook for about an hour, or until juices run clear.
Once removing from the oven, wait for 5-10 minutes before carving. This will allow the chicken to retain it's juices. Worth the wait.

Enjoy!!

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