Dry, flavorless meat will become a thing of the past after reading this guide...
Before last year, my home cooking skills were, shall we say, basic at best. I could make a mean spaghetti bolognese from scratch, my roast potatoes rivaled those of a carvery, and if I was ever feeling particularly adventurous (read: waiting for payday), I'd even manage a homemade spice bag. But that was it. Anything else I'd eat would be courtesy of dining out or an Old El Paso kit.
Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly I was tasked with cooking every breakfast, lunch and dinner for the foreseeable future. No more picking up an apple on my way out the door to work and calling that breakfast; no more €3.50 lunch deals and certainly no more enjoying dinner at my favourite restaurants with friends. At first, I relied on those same three meals I knew how to cook and ringing up my local takeaway. But after a while, food boredom struck and I was left with no other choice than to step into my kitchen. All of a sudden, I was digging through spice racks, experimenting with unfamiliar produce, and devouring online cooking classes like never before.
Now, I fancy myself as a decent home cook. It may seem selfish to perfect fancy dishes during a pandemic, but my kitchen has been my main comfort during moments of panic. Every new ingredient I’ve purchased or dish I've learned to create has helped to distract me from panic-checking Twitter every five minutes. But as any good chef will tell you, there's always more to learn. That's why I've been inspired to create this series: One Thing Well. Each week, I'll be picking the expert brains of chefs all across the country to learn how to cook one thing well.
This week, David Bodas, head chef at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel & Estate, is on hand to deliver a masterclass in brining.
What is brine?
"Brining is a process that will give you the best results when roasting a chicken or other birds such as duck and turkey," explains Bodas. What it involves is submerging meat in a salt water solution prior to roasting or grilling. The brining process adds an extra hint of flavourful moisture—always a plus when dry, tough meat is a risk—and the brine goes to work on the muscle fibers and proteins in the meat itself.
How to brine:
Brine at its most basic is just salt and water, but most chefs would advise taking advantage of the brining process by adding other ingredients such as garlic, thyme and rosemary to add even more flavour to your meat. "It is true that different weights will require more or less time to brine. For a medium chicken, 12-14 hours should be more than sufficient," tells Bodas. "Follow the simple recipe and you are not only going to have the perfect seasoning but a more moist meat and crispier skin."
Basic brine recipe:
- 5l water
- 500g sea salt
- Small bunch of thyme
- Small bunch of rosemary
- 5 bay leaves
- 5 garlic cloves
- 125g Irish cider vinegar
- 175g local honey
- Bring all the ingredients up to the boil and let it cool down to room temperature.
- Immerse the whole chicken and brine for 12 hours.
- Drain the chicken and it will be ready to roast or barbeque.