Lockdown Chicken

Posted on Sun 29 March 2020 in Food

It's the first weekend of New Zealand's COVID-19 lockdown, and having already been working from home for a week I decided I'd get energetic in the kitchen.

Last night, with some guidance from my mate Nevyn, I put a couple chickens into a brine. I've brined before, but this one was super experimental for me, as usually my brines are just that one top result on AllRecipes.com, which is about as inspired as plain mayonnaise on pizza.

Well, holy shit I just finished dinner and it was good enough that it deserves a blog post. The flavour of the brine just showed through, the post-brine sauces were outstanding, and I did a pumpkin that I'll mention below too!

The Brine

A brine is mostly there to ensure you get a super-soft and moist chicken at the end of the cook. For this purpose, only water and salt are really necessary. However you can also use the brining time to subtly introduce some flavours!

  • 6 litres warm water
  • ½ cup salt
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon quills
  • 12 allspice
  • 10 cloves
  • About two tsp peppercorns
  • 2 dried Kashmir(?) chillies

And, the méthode:

  1. Mix your water, salt, and sugar until completely dissolved.
  2. Put the spices into a pan on medium heat, and wiggle them around until the aroma really starts. Make sure you don't singe them!
  3. Add some of your brine to the pan and simmer the spices for five minutes or so, to get that fresh flavour out into the water.
  4. Tip the whole lot back into your pot of brine, making sure you don't leave any flavour behind. It's ready!
  5. Pop your chickens in, and leave them overnight. Weight them down with something if needed, and make sure you turn or mix them a couple times.
Two chickens in a pot, covered in brine.  There are peppercorns, and cinnamon quills floating on top of the water.  A star anise and a dried chilli drift languidly.
Check out that beauty

The Rub

One one of the chickens, I used Leena Spices' exquisite Portuguese Spice Mix with heaps of crushed garlic and lemon juice. On the other chicken, I decided to make up my own. Here's what I did:

  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp oil (adjust as desired for thickness)
  • pinch of cayenne pepper

Just add as much oil as you need to thin the mix out enough to spread on your chicken. Also, add enough cayenne pepper for it to actually be fairly hot; it will cool during cooking. I had mine "comfortably warm", but after cooking it was entirely unnoticeable.

A chicken, rubbed with my homemade rub, ready for cooking.  It's quite yellow, probably from the paprika. Another chicken, this time rubbed with Leena Spices' Portuguese spice.  It's a bit more red, with visible garlic chunks.
Left: My spur-of-the-moment rub;   Right: Leena Spices' Portuguese rub

The Pumpkin

This was another spur-of-the-moment thing, but it was absolutely a star of the meal. Real basically:

  1. Cut your pumpkin in half, along the latitude, to make a couple bowls. (e.g. not from stalk to base)
  2. Scoop out the soft inside bits of the pumpkin and discard.
  3. Take a knife and score the inside of the pumpkin bowls with cross-cuts, as deeply as you can manage.
  4. With your finger, just rub about 2 teaspoons of honey around every exposed part of the pumpkin flesh.
  5. Lay some strips of butter around the rim, with an extra pat of butter in the middle.
  6. Into the smoker it goes! I think mine was in for about two hours today.

The honey and butter will melt and flow into the cross-cuts you made in the pumpkin, allowing the flavour to penetrate.

Pre-cooking pumpkin.  Cut in half like a couple bowls, honey rubbed all over, and butter slices arranged around the rim and inside. The smoker with pumpkins, carrots, and onions.  Pumpkins are a rich orange.  All the butter has melted and flowed into the bowl.
Left: Pumpkin about to be introduced to the smoker;   Right: Post-smoker pumpkin... **delicious**

The End

Here are the finishing photos! It was really a tremendous meal, and we've got enough left-over to make wraps for everyone tomorrow!

Post-cooked chicken.  It's dark and smokey, still clearly moist.  It's difficult to tell the difference, but one has visible garlic chunks. The pumpkins, along with onions, carrots, and potatoes.  All the scoring in the potatoes has opened up and there's still lots of liquid in the pumpkin-bowl.
Absolutely exquisite. Moist, tender, spicy, complex chicken. Smokey, sweet, soft pumpkin. Sesame carrot, and soft salty potatoes.