A roast chicken is a special thing. Filled with memories of family dinners, fighting over who gets the wings, drenched in gravy and served with roast vegetables scorched at the edges.
It seems like the easiest thing in the world to cook. Throw it in the oven, wait an hour or so and voila! Dinner is ready to go. Except when it’s under cooked. Which can make everyone sick. So you put it back in the oven, crank up the heat, and then it’s as dry and tough as, well, over cooked meat.
There’s been a rise in good quality rotisserie chicken stores recently on both sides of the Tasman, with chicken that is moist and tender (unlike the average supermarket hot box chook). They all have one thing in common – their chickens are brined before cooking.
Brining is a wonderful thing. It’s about as easy as it’s possible to be, it just needs a little planning. It almost guarantees succulence every time you roast. If you add a few herbs and chopped vegetables to the brine, there’s extra flavour permeating the whole bird, so it becomes more like a marinade.
And if you get into the habit of using a meat thermometer at the thickest part of the chicken, you can avoid under cooking (dangerous!!) or over cooking (old boot like).
1 whole chicken (free range ideally)
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups of water, plus extra to cover chicken
- Mix together salt, sugar and water together in a large pot (one large enough to hold a whole chicken)
- Bring to the boil over a high heat until salt and sugar have dissolved
- Remove from heat and refrigerate until cold
- Add chicken to the brine and cover with extra water
- Return to the fridge and leave to cure for between 6 and 12 hours (or overnight)
- Drain brine from chicken, pat chicken dry and roast as normal
Brine with extra flavour:
One quantity of basic brine, as above, prepared to step 2
1/2 onion diced
1 carrot diced
1 celery stick sliced
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 bay leaf
handful of thyme sprigs
- Add all ingredients to the hot brine
- Follow steps 3 to 6 above, discarding vegetables and stuffing herbs into the chicken cavity
- I always roast my chickens at 180°C for approximately an hour
- Chicken is cooked when juices from the thickest part of the chicken run clear (ie. No blood)
- For a more accurate measure, use a meat thermometer. When the internal temperate of the chicken is between 75-80°C (prior to resting), the chicken is cooked
- When brining the chicken with extra flavour, feel free to change out the spices and herbs. Try adding lemon and oregano (instead of thyme), put the lemon inside the cavity before roasting. Add fennel seeds, chilli flakes, peppercorns, cumin seeds for extra punch.
- To keep as much moisture as possible in the breast, I roast the chicken breast side down for the first half hour, then turn it over for the remaining time in the oven
- The downside of brining is that crispy skin is sacrificed in favour of taste and moisture, but I guess you can’t have everything!