Over the past few years, the process of brining meats has started to receive an increasing amount of buzz in the food community. Food Network chefs recommend that you try it with your Thanksgiving turkeys, Williams-Sonoma sells their own "Brining Bags" at four dollar a pop, and gourmet food markets even have special brining blends for sale in their spice sections. This is all great, but the truth of the matter is that most people don't really know what the point of brining is, and they think that it requires way too much time and effort, so why would they do it? Class, welcome to Brining 101.
Brining is a process that can take chicken from everyday ho-hum to mouthwatering in as little as fifteen minutes. If you are not brining your meats when you grill them, then you are missing out on a juicier, more tender, and overall tastier meal. In everyday terms, brining causes the cells of the meat's muscle tissue to retain water by soaking the meat in a salty solution for a designated period of time so that it plumps up. At minimum, a brining solution consists of salt and water. Other ingredients may include: sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, fruit juices, liquor or beer, garlic, fresh herbs, spices, and chilies. The brine ingredients are combined and stirred until the salt (and sugar if part of the brine) dissolve in the water. The meat is then submerged in the brine and refrigerated until ready to use.
In order to effectively brine your meats, contrary to what the folks at Williams-Sonoma might say, you do not need to invest in specialty brining bags and blends. A couple of sturdy zip-top plastic bags should do the trick for the brining container. I have also heard of people using a deep bucket or even a cooler for larger cuts of meat such as turkeys. Most of the brine ingredients you should have in your pantry, except for perhaps the large amount of salt that is require (you may want to run out and make a small investment in a box of Kosher salt.) You can even make up your own brine using whatever you have on hand.
Despite the fact that I have spent the majority of the time writing about the brining portion of this recipe, I do have one thing to say about the barbecue sauce: bring an extra set of paper towels or napkins to the table when you serve it, because you will be licking it off of your fingers! It is a sweet peach flavored twist on regular barbecue sauce and it is fantastic! Here are some tips for this recipe:
- If the chicken and brine are too much to fit into one bag, or if you don't have the larger 2 gallon bags on hand, just divide then between 1 gallon bags.
- Do not brine for longer then the 2 hour time period, as it may cause the chicken meat to become too salty tasting.
- Instead of using all chicken breasts, you can use two 3 1/2-4 pound whole chickens that have been quartered.
- If you don't have peach preserves, try preparing the recipe with blackberry, raspberry, apricot, or cherry preserves.
- Smoked paprika is a spice which I have noticed is being used quite a bit in recently published recipes. It is different from regular paprika in that regular paprika has a fairly mild and slightly bitter taste. Smoked paprika, as you might guess, has a deep smoky flavor and a slight sweetness. I much prefer it to the regular kind and substitute smoky for regular in all recipes.
Grilled Chicken with Peach Barbecue Sauce
2 quarts water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
4 fresh thyme sprigs
8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 slice of bacon
1 bunch of thyme (10-12 sprigs)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups ketchup
1 cup peach preserves
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the brine, combine the water, salt, sugar, garlic, and thyme in a 2-gallon resealable plastic bag. Add the chicken, close the bag, and refrigerate for up to 2 hours to allow the salt and seasonings to penetrate the chicken.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Wrap the bacon around the thyme bunch and tie it with the kitchen twine so that you have a nice bundle. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the thyme bundle and cook slowly for 4-5 minutes in order to render the bacon fat and give the sauce a nice smoky taste. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes more. Add all of the remaining sauce ingredients and stir to combine. Turn the heat down to low and let simmer for 20 minutes to meld the flavors.
Preheat a grill pan (or and outdoor grill) over medium heat and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Take the chicken out of the brine and pat it dry with paper towels. Discard the brine. Grill the chicken, turning once, for 8 minutes. Brush the chicken with the barbecue sauce and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through. Serve with the extra sauce.