Why Do People Soak Store-Bought Chicken in Salt Water?

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No week passes by without chicken making its way to my dining table. Whether it’s a quick midweek stir-fry, a weekend roast, or those lazy Sunday afternoons when I marinate chicken wings, chicken has a permanent spot on my menu. Now, let me share one of my all-time favorite kitchen hacks that can transform your chicken dishes from good to phenomenal: brining.

I stumbled upon the concept of brining a few years back when I was trying to perfect my Thanksgiving turkey. The difference was so astonishing that I started brining everything, especially chicken. It’s simple, effective, and turns your ordinary poultry into something juicy and flavorful.

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What is Brining Chicken?

Brining is essentially soaking chicken in a solution of salt and water. The magic lies in the salt. It breaks down the proteins in the meat, allowing it to absorb more moisture. This results in a juicier, more tender piece of meat.

How Do You Brine Chicken?

Brining chicken is not rocket science. It’s one of those kitchen techniques that seems intimidating at first but becomes second nature once you’ve tried it a couple of times. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it.

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Three Main Reasons People Brine Chicken

  1. Juiciness: The primary reason for brining chicken is to enhance its juiciness. When you cook chicken, it often dries out, especially the breasts. Brining helps retain moisture, making each bite succulent.
  2. Flavor: Brining infuses the chicken with flavor. You can add herbs, spices, and even sugar to your brine to create a well-seasoned bird from the inside out.
  3. Tenderness: The salt in the brine breaks down the muscle fibers in the meat, resulting in a more tender texture. This is especially beneficial for tougher cuts of chicken.

Is it Necessary to Brine Chicken?

Is brining necessary? Well, it depends. If you’re aiming for a moist, flavorful chicken, then yes, it’s a game-changer. However, if you’re in a hurry or simply can’t be bothered with the extra step, you can skip it. Your chicken will still be tasty, but it might not have that extra oomph that brining provides.

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Is It Okay If You Don’t Brine Chicken?

Absolutely! Not brining your chicken is not the end of the world. Many recipes don’t require brining and still result in delicious dishes. However, if you have the time and want to elevate your meal, I highly recommend giving it a try.

How to Brine Chicken Step by Step

  1. Choose Your Chicken: You can brine any part of the chicken, from the whole bird to breasts, thighs, or wings. Adjust the brining time based on the size and cut.
  2. Prepare the Brine: The basic brine recipe is simple: 1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of water. You can also add sugar, herbs, spices, and aromatics like garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, and rosemary for additional flavor.
  3. Dissolve the Salt: Heat a portion of the water (about 1/4 of the total amount) and dissolve the salt and sugar in it. This helps the salt dissolve more easily. Once dissolved, mix with the remaining cold water to cool the brine down.
  4. Submerge the Chicken: Place the chicken in a large, non-reactive container (glass, plastic, or stainless steel) and pour the brine over it. Ensure the chicken is fully submerged.
  5. Refrigerate: Brine the chicken in the refrigerator. Here’s a rough guide for brining times:
    • Whole chicken: 8-12 hours
    • Chicken pieces: 1-2 hours
    • Chicken breasts: 30 minutes to 1 hour
  6. Rinse and Dry: Once brining is complete, rinse the chicken under cold water to remove excess salt. Pat it dry with paper towels. This step is crucial as it ensures the skin crisps up during cooking.
  7. Cook as Desired: Now, your chicken is ready to be cooked. Whether you’re roasting, grilling, frying, or baking, the brined chicken will yield superior results.
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How Long to Brine

The brining time varies depending on the size and cut of the chicken. Over-brining can make the chicken too salty and mushy, so stick to the recommended times. For larger cuts like a whole chicken, aim for 8-12 hours. Smaller pieces like breasts or thighs can be brined for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Cold or Warm Water?

Always use cold water for brining, especially after dissolving the salt and sugar with hot water. The cold water helps keep the chicken at a safe temperature, preventing bacterial growth.

Can You Freeze Brined Chicken?

Yes, you can freeze brined chicken. After brining, rinse and dry the chicken, then place it in a freezer-safe bag or container. Be sure to label it with the date. When you’re ready to cook, thaw it in the refrigerator. Freezing the brined chicken doesn’t affect the brining benefits, and it can be a convenient way to prep meals ahead of time.

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There you have it—everything you need to know about brining chicken. It’s a simple technique that can dramatically improve the quality of your poultry dishes. So, the next time you find yourself with a little extra time and a chicken in need of some love, give brining a shot.