Juicy and moist- two words that my best friend hates the sound of but perfectly describe how I like my meat. Dry chicken or steak or pork or fish? Ugh- get it away.
And while a nice juicy steak isn't impossible to make, chicken is hit or miss. One way to guarantee deliciously moist chicken is to make my french chicken in a pot recipe. Or tenderize it with buttermilk or yogurt. Another is to brine it.
What is brine? Brining is basically soaking your meat in a solution of water, salt, and spices (optional). And how does it make your meat so delicious? Science to the rescue!
The magic is in the salt. The salt not only draws in more water within the cells (osmosis baby!), but it also breaks down tough muscle fibers. It's amazing. Miraculously the meat itself doesn't taste salty. But spices and flavorings you use in your brining liquid do manage to sneak in, so not only can you juicify your meat by brining, you can flavor it too. (No, juicify is not a real word. Yes, I will be using it a lot from now on.)
I've tried my hand at brining once before- the ginormous turkey from Thanksgiving (it was a pain in the booty because of the size of the monstrosity, let me tell you). But it came out great and I'm not quite sure why I don't do it more often with my poultry and other (normal sized) cuts of meat.
Anyways, a few months back I was flipping through my friend's Food and Wine magazine and saw it: pickle-juice brined chicken. YUP- the recipe had you use leftover pickle juice as your brining liquid.
This is genius for 2 reasons:
1. I love pickles. How interesting to infuse chicken what that flavor?!
2. I hate wasting food. Just ask my friends- I'll take home anyone's leftovers before I'll let them throw food away. I hate nothing more than throwing food away.
Pretty amazing, huh?
The chicken was also served with a chicken broth sauce and sauteed swiss chard. Isn't swiss chard purty? It's like Christmas in a vegetable. Kale and swiss chard, how are they so cool looking?
And it's giant too!
Such a great combination of flavors. I just wish I had some mashed potatoes to go with the chicken to soak up all the brothy goodness. Mashed potatoes would have made this dish a perfect 10!
Jackie's final verdict: pretty awesome! But only if you like pickles. The flavor was definitely there. Not super strong, but stronger than I anticipated. I knew what the secret ingredient was though so my opinon was likely biased. I can just imagine someone who didn't know what you used to exclaim: "This chicken is delicious, what's IN it?"
The day before you cook the dinner prepare a pickle juice bath for the chicken. I went with chicken legs, but feel to use thighs or breasts (with bone and skin).
I didn't follow the recipe exactly as written because I wanted to simplify it a bit. I'll tell what I did throughout the post if you want to shorten the process at home as well. But I'll include the full recipe at the end because I have a feeling that making it as written from start to finish would yield an AMAZING dish...
Brown the chicken thighs then set them to the side. Add chopped onions, carrots and celery and scrape up all the nice brown bits. Then add some white wine, followed by the chicken broth and cook it down to reduce by 1/4. (Note: I highly recommend using low sodium chicken broth, as you reduce it quite a bit, which concentrates the salt.)
The recipe calls for you to strain the veggies but I decided to keep them in the final dish. Why throw away deliciousness?
While the broth is reducing you can throw the chicken in the oven to bake.
While the broth is reducing AND the chicken is cooking, you can prepare the swiss chard.
You're going to want to remove the green leaves from the thick red stem.
Then cook the leafy greens until they reduce by a lot.
After the chicken is done, just assemble your dish. Leafy greens on bottom, chicken on top, and drizzled with a healthy serving of the concentrated chicken stock.
I'd highly recommend pairing the chicken with some kind of veggie puree or mashed potato dish.
And the leftover wine... :-)
Pickle Brined Chicken, from Food and Wine magazine
4 chicken breast halves, on the bone (about 3/4 pound each), plus 2 whole chicken legs
2 cups brine from jarred dill pickles
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I say less is needed...)
3 medium onions, thickly sliced
2 carrots, thickly sliced
2 celery ribs, thickly sliced
1/2 cup semi-dry white wine, such as an off-dry Riesling
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
2 pounds Swiss chard—thick stems and ribs removed, leaves coarsely shredded
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
1. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the chicken breasts with the pickle juice and a generous pinch of ground pepper. Seal the bag, pressing out any air, and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°. Season the chicken legs with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium enameled cast-iron casserole. Add the chicken legs and cook over moderate heat, turning once, until browned, about 12 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Add the onions, carrots and celery to the casserole and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the wine, bay leaves and peppercorns.
3. Return the chicken legs to the casserole. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover and braise in the oven for about 1 hour, until the meat is very tender. Transfer the chicken legs to a plate to cool slightly. Pull the meat from the bones; discard the bones and skin. Strain the cooking liquid and wipe out the casserole. Return the cooking liquid to the pot and boil until the sauce is reduced to 1 cup, about 25 minutes; keep warm.
4. Meanwhile, raise the oven temperature to 350°. Pat the chicken breasts dry. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in an ovenproof skillet. Add the breasts, skin side down, and cook over high heat until golden, about 6 minutes. Turn and cook for 2 minutes longer.
5. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the chicken for about 25 minutes, until cooked through. Transfer the chicken breasts to a platter and let rest for 10 minutes.
6. Wipe out the skillet and heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil (Jackie's note: I think this is way too much. A few TBSP max.) until shimmering. Add the Swiss chard and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, tossing, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the shredded leg meat and half of the sauce. Spoon the chard and chicken onto plates and serve with the seared breasts. Drizzle the remaining sauce all around and serve right away.
Make Ahead tip: The braised chicken legs can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
My changes from the written recipe
* I also used chicken legs as the main part of my dish (vs. chicken breasts). Any cut of meat will do.
* Instead of braising additional chicken legs to shred in the swiss chard I just left the swiss chard plain. That step alone saved over an hour.
* However, I still wanted to maximize the chicken flavor in the broth. So although it would have been better if I had cooked chicken in it, I decided to at least brown the chicken in a pot before cooking the veggies. That way I could at least have the nice browned chicken bits in the pan to add a little bit of extra flavor.
* Also, I kept the carrots, onion and celery in the reduced broth. If you remove them to serve a "prettier" dish I would recommend still keeping them vs. throwing them away. Remember, I hate to waste food. And they've been cooking in chicken broth for a while so they're absolutely tender and delicious!