Brining boosts flavor of cold chicken

August 05, 2009|By LYNNE ROSSETTO KASPER / Scripps Howard News Service

Dear Lynne: My husband loves honey-baked-style ham cold cuts. He takes a sandwich to work every day. What can I cook that will get him away from those cold-cut chemicals and keep him happy with his sandwiches? -- Annie in Charlotte

Dear Annie: There's a way around this one that he'll enjoy. Substitute chicken for the ham and prepare it with a technique called brining. If you use a salty and sweet brine, he'll get the flavors he's used to minus the fat and all the chemical preservatives (other than salt, which has always been one of the princes of preservation).

Wait for a sale on boneless chicken breasts or bone out your own. Make the brine below. Instead of brining the breasts for two to four hours for subtly seasoned and moist eating, take them close to pickling by brining them overnight or for about 12 hours. This brings the texture and flavor closer to what your husband's used to in those cold cuts. Cook the chicken breasts slow to keep them tender. Once they are cool, slice thin and store for up to four days.



Makes 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 pounds of chicken sandwich slices. The recipe halves and doubles easily.

Cold chicken -- cooked and waiting in the refrigerator -- has become a summer tradition for us. I always make more than I think I need because, between sandwiches, salads and snacking, it disappears faster than snow in July. This particular preparation makes dynamite chicken salad.

If you brine the meat for two to four hours, you'll have dinner eating. Brining longer builds the texture and flavors close to old-time cured delicatessen chicken. In France a few generations ago, this was the way fresh meats were stored to protect them from spoiling. A big crock in a cool cellar held the brine ready for the barnyard bird or the fresh sausage and the odd roast or chop.

Start this recipe a day or two before you want to use it. Instead of cooking the chicken on the stove as described below, it could be slow cooked on the grill, ideally over wood charcoal.

1/3 cup kosher or other coarse salt (do not used iodized table salt)
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
10 large garlic cloves, crushed
2 generous tablespoons dry whole-leaf thyme or basil
2 tablespoons ground medium-to-hot chili pepper (optional)
1-1/2 to 1-3/4 pounds boneless chicken breasts (I like these skin on, but it is not essential)
Cold water
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

In a 5-quart glass or stainless-steel bowl, combine the salt, sugar, vinegar, garlic, herbs and, if desired, chili pepper. Gradually add cold tap water, stirring with your hand to make sure the salt and sugar are dissolved. You want about 10 cups of water. Slip the chicken into the brine, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 12 hours.

Drain and discard brine. Lightly rinse the chicken pieces and the bowl with water; drain this, too. Add about half of the olive oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to one more day.

When ready to cook, film the bottom of a 12-inch straight-sided saute pan with the remaining olive oil. Set the pan over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and slip it into the pan, taking care so pieces don't touch. Sear them on both sides and turn down the heat to medium low. Cook the chicken pieces 6 to 8 minutes on each side, turning several times with a spatula, or until they're firm when pressed. If you have any doubts whether they're fully cooked, insert an instant-read thermometer in the center of a piece. It should read 165 degrees F.

Transfer the chicken to a plate and let cool, uncovered, in the refrigerator. Then thinly slice it crossways, at a slanted angle. Slicing across the grain is a tenderizing trick: The breast muscle's fibers run from top to bottom, so by thinly slicing across those fibers you avoid stringy meat.

(Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosts "The Splendid Table," American Public Media's weekly national show for people who love eat. She's the co-author of "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories and Opinions." Ask questions and find Lynne, recipes and station listings at

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