cumin lime-brined grilled chicken

freestyle friday
notes from maggie's farm

One thing is for certain.  It took me a long time to master the chicken.

Oh it's not the live chickens that gave me fits.  It's the, um, plated chickens.  Chicken.  Chicken for dinner. I really was awful with a chicken.
No one is going to dispute me on this point, sad to say.  I have served some dried up chicken before.  Friends and family alike have fallen victim to my misplaced self-assurance that I could cook a chicken breast.  I simply had no idea what I was doing.  I could cover it in some kind of soupy gravy all I wanted, but even under a blanket of tasty sauce, there still lay a dry, tough, tasteless piece of meat.  I'm told many good chefs/cooks have that one item that eludes them, over which they seem to have a culinary chip on the shoulder. I think they mean things like the perfect hollandaise, or Beef Wellington, or a souffle.   Me? The lowly chicken.  Cluck cluck.  

Enter the magic that is brining.  I had no idea!  I always wondered why my fried chicken, using my grandmother's recipe, was always moist and juicy but any other cooking method resulted in the jerky to which I've referred.  And it was that whole 'soaking in salt water' step--that's brining!   And in the last few years, everyone else has heard about it, too.  Perhaps, like me, you were late to the party for actually giving it a whirl.  I'm hear to tell you, friend.  Get yourself to that party.

This weekend we revisit our Feast of Gratitude from last week.  The fare for our home meal, in honor of that day, was simply grilled chicken, beans, and cornbread.  With a few twists.  Twists that turn boring chicken, beans, and cornbread into a feast worthy of celebration!  The menu:

cumin lime chicken
chile-cheese corn muffins
cider-stewed pinto beans with apple and chorizo, 
served over rice

cold cerveza

Today-- It's all Cluck Cluck.

Based on the high-temperature brining formula and time, below, we 'customized' our brine by adding to each quart of brine---
the juice of one lime (reserve zest!)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 small smashed garlic clove, 
and we substituted 2T brown sugar for the required 2 T sugar per quart.  

Proceed as instructed, below.  

Prior to grilling, season with freshly-ground black pepper and reserved lime zest.  Grill to an internal temperature of 170 degrees.  Let rest a minimum of 15 minutes before serving.


How salt, sugar, and water can improve texture and flavor in lean meats, poultry, and seafood.  BY JULIA COLLIN

excerpts from COOK’S ILLUSTRATED

Why are some roast turkeys dry as sawdust while others boast meat that’s firm, juicy, and well seasoned? The answer is brining. Soaking a turkey in a brine—a solution of salt (and often sugar) and a liquid (usually water)—provides it with a plump cushion of seasoned moisture that will sustain it throughout cooking. The turkey will actually gain a bit of weight—call it, for lack of a better phrase, water retention—that stays with it through the cooking process. This weight gain translates into moist meat; the salt and sugar in the brine translate into seasoned, flavorful meat. And this applies to all likely candidates for brining (see below). For a complete understanding of the process, read on.

Lean and often mildly flavored meats with a tendency to overcook—such as chicken, turkey, and pork—are perfect candidates for brining, which leaves them plump and seasoned. Many types of seafood also take well to brining, especially when they are subjected to cooking methods that cause extreme moisture loss. For instance, we don’t brine salmon fillets before grilling (the fish has plenty of fat and flavor and won’t dry out if pulled from the grill when still translucent in the center). However, when grill-roasting a whole side of salmon, brining allows the fish to spend considerable time on the grill, picking up smoke flavor without becoming dry. Shrimp, which is extremely lean and often mushy, is another good choice for brining (the brine actually firms the shrimp).
In contrast, beef and lamb do not benefit from brining. Unlike poultry and pork, these meats are generally eaten rare or medium-rare and are therefore cooked to a relatively low internal temperature. As a consequence, they do not lose as much of their natural moisture as poultry or pork, which are generally cooked to higher internal temperatures. Beef and lamb also contain more fat, which makes them more flavorful and helps to keep them moist. For many of the same reasons, gamier, fattier birds, such as duck and squab, don’t benefit from brining.

Both table salt and kosher salt can be used to make a brine. We prefer kosher salt because it has a cleaner flavor than table salt (which usually contains iodine and anti-caking agents that can affect flavor) and because it has an airier structure, which gives it a higher propensity to dissolve. Essentially, kosher salt is less salty than table salt. A cup of table salt weighs about 10 ounces, while a cup of kosher salt (depending on the precise crystalline structure of the brand purchased) weighs between 5 and 8 ounces. To simplify the math, we use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, which weighs 5 ounces per cup, making it exactly half as strong as table salt. If you buy another brand of kosher salt, you may need to adjust the amount called for in the chart on page 17. For instance, Morton Kosher Salt weighs 7.7 ounces per cup. Use 11/2 cups of this kosher salt (not 2 cups) to replace 1 cup of table salt.

From plastic zipper-lock bags that fit on the shelf of the refrigerator to a self-contained cooler chilled with ice packs and stored in a cool garage or cellar, brining vessels come in all shapes and sizes. When brining in coolers or large containers, it may be necessary to weigh the food down with a wide, heavy object such as a dinner plate or soup bowl. This helps keep the food fully immersed in the brine.

1. Mix cold water, salt, and sugar in brining vessel and stir to dissolve salt and sugar.
2. Immerse food in brine, seal, and refrigerate. (If not refrigerating, add ice packs before covering.)
Since we brined our first turkey several years ago, we have been captivated by the benefits of brining. Brines are featured in many of our recipes, which, given the particular time constraints and the nature of the food being brined, recommend a rather wide variety of formulas. We decided to get scientific and come up with a single, all-purpose formula. To start, we reviewed all of our brining recipes and calculated an average ratio of water to salt to sugar as well as an average brining time per pound of meat. Using this new standard formula, we cooked our way through various cuts of poultry and pork and several types of seafood, and it worked in all but a few situations. High roasting (roasting at 450 to 500 degrees), broiling, and high-heat grilling all require a brine with less sugar to ensure the skin or exterior won’t burn. (After brining a turkey or fresh ham, rinse well to remove any remaining sugar.) To keep the flavors of the high-heat brine balanced, we also reduced the amount of salt.

Brining does have one negative effect on chicken and turkey: Adding moisture to the skin as well as the flesh can prevent the skin from crisping when cooked. We found that air-drying, a technique used in many Chinese recipes for roast duck, solves this problem. Letting brined chicken and turkey dry uncovered in the refrigerator allows surface moisture to evaporate, making the skin visibly more dry and taut and therefore promoting crispness when cooked. Although this step is optional, if crisp skin is a goal, it’s worth the extra time. For best results, air-dry whole brined birds overnight. (Brined chicken parts can be air-dried for several hours.)  Transfer the brined bird to a heavy-duty cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet, pat the bird dry with paper towels, and refrigerate. The rack lifts the bird off the baking sheet, allowing air to circulate freely under the bird.

1 quart cold water • 1/2 cup Diamond Crystal kosher OR 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Morton Kosher Salt OR 1/4c table salt • 1/2 cup sugar

High-Heat Grilling or Roasting
1 quart cold water • 1/4 cup Diamond Crystal kosher OR 3 tablespoons Morton Kosher Salt OR 2 tablespoons table salt • 2T sugar

QUANTITY-- 1 quart per pound of meat, not to exceed 2 gallons.
BRINE TIME--1 hour per pound, but no less than 30 minutes and no more than 8 hours.
(When brining multiple items, time based on weight of single item (for example, use weight of 1 of 4 pork chops being brined)


Tomorrow:  Those Most Excellent Chile-Cheese Corn Muffins, on 
saturday special
notes from maggie's farm


  1. So that's why the chicken was so good. And I thought it was my grilling excellence.

  2. from maggie's farm07 November, 2011

    Oh yeah, honey. It's you. All you. (wink*)


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