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"CHICKEN IN THE SEAIn last week's column about chickens, I mentioned that John and I always brine chicken before we cook and eat it, for a number of reasons. I also noted that I'd first talked about brining in a column a few years ago and if anyone wanted instructions for brining, I'd be happy to see that they get them. Well, I've had quite a few requests for brining information, so I decided the easiest way to deal with the whole subject is to give you a re-hash of that column of May 10, 1994. So, here it is, with some editing, the whys and how-tos of brining. There are no doubt other methods, but this is what we do to any chicken we intend to eat......We've brined other meats, as well as all our chickens, and I have to say that, without fail, it improves the quality and flavor of fish, fowl and some beef and pork cuts. (Note: I now also use it on wild fowl such as goose or duck and on some venison or moose cuts). I'm not sure exactly how the brine solution works its magic, but let me just tell you what happens to chicken after about two hours in a water, brown sugar and kosher (or sea) salt solution. The flesh firms up and takes on a healthier color. No more pale gray or pasty white, mushy chicken. Any trace of sliminess disappears (we're talking about packaged supermarket chickens here), and the brine seems to draw out any remaining blood from the interior cavity, leaving a very clean, firm bird, ready to use in any of your preferred recipes. Brining especially seems to enhance chicken when you're going to grill or barbecue the bird. I've since learned, by the way, that a number of restaurants in this area that feature grilled chicken (such as Confetti's in Everett and Palomino in Seattle) make it a regular practice to brine all their chickens before cooking, no matter where they're buying them. (Note: Confetti's is, unfortunately, no longer there). If you're worrying about adding too much salt content to your food, don't. Unless you're on a very restricted salt intake, the amount of salt added through brining is minimal, while the enhancement of the bird's flavor is maximum. And if you're ever in doubt about the freshness or cleanliness of any piece of meat, brining aids in destroying some bacteria. You're never too old to learn something new, they say, and the fact that a 69-cent-a-pound chicken can taste like it's fresh from the farm is proof enough for me. Now all of our chickens take a short saltwater swim before joining us at the dinner table.Brine Bath Recipe After a bit of experimentation until he was satisfied with results, here is the method John uses for brining. Use it for fish or fowl, and don't hesitate to adjust the amount of salt and/or sugar to suit your own tastes. 1. First wash the bird and remove the parts packet from the inside cavity. 2. Make the brine solution as follows: in a large stainless steel kettle or deep bowl (don't use aluminum), dissolve 2/3 cup of kosher or sea salt (we prefer kosher, but do NOT use iodized salt), and 1/3 cup of brown sugar in 2 quarts of hot water. When dissolved, add 1 more quart of very cold water (John fills a 4 cup measure with ice cubes and then fills it up with cold water). This should bring the temperature of the brine about to room temperature; if not, allow to cool until it does. (You can hurry the dissolving process by puting the salt/sugar and 2 qts. water in your microwave and boiling, but this will mean a bit longer in cooling down to room temperature after you add the cold water. Whatever works best for you.) 3. Submerge the bird in the brine and let stand for up to two hours. We've found that one hour works well for fish; more than two hours makes most things too salty; a large turkey could stay in the brine as much as three hours. If a chicken is your first attempt, try two hours. And by the way, brining works equally well on cut-up chicken, but you may want to reduce the brining time by a half-hour or so. 4. When ready to cook, remove bird from brine and pat dry with paper towels. (If you have a major concern about salt, you may wish to rinse, then pat dry; John doesn't rinse and we've never felt the meat was too salty.) If you normally remove the skin from chicken before you cook it, do it just as you usually would. I leave the skin on during brining, but if I've bought skinless chicken pieces, I shorten the brining time by a half-hour or so. 5. Cook in any manner you normally would, except do not add salt until you've tasted, as the meat takes on its own salty flavor and rarely needs additional salting. If you're going to put any brined meat in a marinade before grilling, do watch the amount of salt in the marinade as you will want to cut it down or eliminate altogether.Note: Since I wrote this, we've found it's easiest to have one container kept only for the brining process; we currently use a wastebasket (bathroom size) purchased just for brining. It's an ideal size for one chicken or other average size meat/fish portions; you'd need something larger for a turkey, of course.So there you have it, but if you have any more questions, don't hesitate to call or e-mail us at falwal@whidbey.com. As of now, I've not yet tried putting a chicken or turkey in a bag and submerging it in the cold waters of Saratoga Passage in front of the house for a couple of hours, but it would probably work as long as the crabs couldn't get at it. After all, chicken legs are some people's preferred crabtrap bait. Saratoga Passage Chicken could become an Island specialty, right? "

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