Brining: A Quick Way to Flavor and Tenderize

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At dinner with friends one night, I was shocked when one of the foodies at the table ordered chicken.

This is a guy who will not eat pasta if he thinks the shape of the noodle is not ideally suited to the sauce, so we are talking about someone who is diligent about his selections.

His choice of chicken started a debate across the table. My husband and I insisted that we never order chicken in a restaurant because it is so mundane and we have it at home frequently.

Our friend disagreed; he said restaurant chicken is always great because they do it right — brining it, marinating it, cooking it with professional skill. I was skeptical, but in the end his chicken breast was the best thing on the table.

That got me thinking: If a restaurant can make a humble chicken breast taste that good — moist and juicy and well-seasoned — why can’t I?

Turns out, I can, and so can you.

The secret is in the brine. And the best news of all is that it doesn’t require a 24-hour lead time like many marinades — 15 minutes in a brine will make a significant difference.

One note: Experts recommend a maximum of two hours in the brine to avoid the meat breaking down and turning mushy.

I soaked my chicken for the full two hours; the resulting texture was great, but the chicken was very salty. In my family, we are salt lovers with mercifully low blood pressure so this was not a problem, but if your taste or health has a different requirement, reduce the time in the brine.

Our simple grilled chicken breasts were fantastically delicious and, with the surplus, I made a delightful chicken salad, which sufficed for dinner on night two.

Here’s the method:

Brined Chicken Breasts

Serves four (or two with leftovers for chicken salad)

pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 quart cool water

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Juice and rind of 1 lemon

In a bowl or shallow dish, place the water, salt, garlic powder and lemon. Stir until the salt dissolves.

Add the chicken breasts and soak for the desired time — between 15 minutes and two hours.

Remove the chicken breasts, rinse, pat dry and cook as desired.

Grill over medium heat for about 15 minutes until done; roast in a lightly oiled pan at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes; or sauté in an oiled skillet, covered, over medium-low heat after searing on high briefly on both sides (if the chicken sticks to the pan, add a bit of water, broth or wine).

Tomorrow’s Chicken Salad

Serves two to three

Approximately ¾ pounds cooked chicken, cut in small pieces

cup grapes, cut in half

1 tablespoon chopped Vidalia (sweet) onion

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

½ cup salted almonds

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Fresh ground pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients well and serve on a bed of greens, or on sandwiches.

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