Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Southern Sweet Tea Chicken

I found a recipe for sweet tea brine on Pinterest and was really intrigued. Let's talk about a brine. In it's simplest form, a brine is just a mixture of salt and water. I never never never cook any type of poultry without brining it overnight. I won't go into the complex explanation of why a brine makes poultry so divine (it involves osmosis) but suffice to say my kids don't know that most people think chicken is dry. Here's the other awesome thing about a brine is that any other flavors you add to it enter into the flesh of the meat. It's an easy way to add a lot of flavor to poultry. Every Thanksgiving I brine our turkey using Alton Brown's bring recipe found here. Once we had this, there was no going back. Here's a catering secret: all chicken that comes out of a GOOD catering kitchen has been brined. This includes baked and fried chicken. It makes the chicken retain sooo much moisture, so you don't end up biting into something the consistency of wood. So without anymore chatter, here's the recipe:

2 Chicken leg quarters
4 tea bags
4 cups of water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 lemon sliced as thin as possible
1 small onion, sliced very thin as well
3 cloves of garlic or 3 Tablespoons of minced garlic in a jar
1 Tablespoon cracked black pepper
2 cups of ice

Bring the water to a boil then remove it from the heat. Add the tea bags and let it steep for 10 minutes. Remove te tea bags and throw them away, they've given up their goods. Add the salt, sugar, lemon, onion, garlic, and pepper and stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. This is your brine. Let it sit for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until it's not hot anymore. This is a really important step. You never want to add any raw protein to a warm liquid. It puts the food into the temperature danger zone for too long and this is how people end up with food poisoning. Once it's cool to the touch, add the 2 cups of ice. At this point, you have a choice. You can either put the chicken in a Ziploc bag and add the brine to it, or you can do like I do. I have a plastic 1 gallon pitcher I use just for brining chicken. (it's labeled so my hubby doesn't make Crystal Light in it, lol) I put the brine in the pitcher, then add the ice, then add the chicken. That way I can make sure all of the chicken is submerged. If it's not completely submerged, add some water and stir it. Now put the whole ting in the fridge and forget about it until tomorrow.
Next day, about 1 hour 10 minutes before you want to eat, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with foil and set a roasting rack or cookie rack on top of it. Spray the rack with cooking spray (like PAM). Remove the chicken from the fridge, drain it, set it on a plate and pat it dry with paper towels. Make sure the skin is very dry, as this is key to crispy skin. Place the chicken on the rack, making sure none of it is touching and put it in the preheated oven. Set the timer for 40 minutes and turn on the oven exhaust fan. This is a very smoky recipe, but if you can bear with it, it's well worth it! I had to open the windows during the last 15 minutes but that's because I didn't have the fan on from the start. When the 40 minutes are up, you'll be tempted to think the chicken is done, but it's not. Decrease the oven temp to 350, rotate the pan so the back is now in the front, and bake it for another 20 minutes. Now remove it from the oven. It should be 160 degrees when checked with a probe thermometer. Cover the whole pan with foil and let it sit for 10 minutes. Again this is an important step that shouldn't be skipped because it lets the juices redistribute throughout the chicken. Anyone who has cut meat as soon as it comes out of the oven can tell you it's not delicious when all the juices are sitting on the cutting board.

Here is what the finished chicken looks like. I wanted to show a picture of all the pieces before I cut them, but the boys we're screaming that they were starving to death, so I was only able to snap a shot of my own piece. It was so incredibly juicy, I just can't describe it!
Is your mouth watering yet?? My stomach was growling while I was trying to get the best picture, lol!! Here is a picture of my setup to bake it. You'll see why I line the pan with foil, so I don't spend the rest of the night scrubbing the pan clean. I just let it cool, pull the foil off and toss it in the trash. Easy, peasy!
Enjoy! We sure did!!

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