Brining a chicken imparts a rich, salty flavor to the meat that also helps to keep it moist and tender throughout the cooking process, no matter what your preferred cooking method is. You can brine a whole chicken or simply pieces of chicken -- the method is the same. Fully cover the chicken, and rinse the meat and allow it to rest before cooking it, to equalize the salt flavor. For a quicker brine, employ a higher concentration of salt in your brine.
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The salt-to-water ratio that you use to brine your chicken determines how long you need to leave the chicken in the brine mixture. A 10 percent salt mixture is most common for quick brining a chicken. For example, a 5 percent ratio is 2 tablespoons of salt to 20 ounces of water. A 10 percent ratio simply doubles the salt to 4 tablespoons without altering the amount of water.
Preparing the Brine
Combine the salt and water with herbs and lemons or limes to taste in a large saucepan. Stir the mixture over medium heat. Transfer the mixture to the refrigerator or freezer and allow it to cool. Alternately, Chef Michael Ruhlman recommends reducing the water mixture in the saucepan by half and adding the remaining half in the form of cold water or ice so you don’t have to cool the brine mixture before using it.
Allow the chicken to rest in a 5 percent brine for three to four hours. If you use a 10 percent salt mixture, the chicken should rest in the brine for two to three hours in an airtight container or tightly sealed plastic bag. After the allotted resting time, remove the chicken and rinse it with cold water to remove the excess salt. Allow the chicken to rest for an additional hour in a clean plastic bag or container so the salt can penetrate the skin and flavor the meat.
For quick brining chicken, coarse kosher salt is the best option because it imparts the most flavor without making the chicken overly salty. Avoid iodized salt and sea salt for a quick brine – the mixture will become too salty if you use iodized salt, and sea salt will take considerably longer to impart the proper flavor.