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!
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:
- Mix your water, salt, and sugar until completely dissolved.
- 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!
- 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.
- Tip the whole lot back into your pot of brine, making sure you don't leave any flavour behind. It's ready!
- 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.
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.
This was another spur-of-the-moment thing, but it was absolutely a star of the meal. Real basically:
- Cut your pumpkin in half, along the latitude, to make a couple bowls. (e.g. not from stalk to base)
- Scoop out the soft inside bits of the pumpkin and discard.
- Take a knife and score the inside of the pumpkin bowls with cross-cuts, as deeply as you can manage.
- With your finger, just rub about 2 teaspoons of honey around every exposed part of the pumpkin flesh.
- Lay some strips of butter around the rim, with an extra pat of butter in the middle.
- 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.
Here are the finishing photos! It was really a tremendous meal, and we've got enough left-over to make wraps for everyone tomorrow!