Do you remember the last time you’ve grilled chicken breasts? No? Oh don’t get worried, your memory is just fine! You are in a good company – many people simply avoid grilling chicken breasts. Why? Well, for one simple reason – it often comes out dry as a desert!
In a whole chicken the breast is the leanest part, very low fat, and when grilling it dries almost instantly. So, since shortening cooking time isn’t an option here (unlike beef, chicken must always be “well done” – that’s a food safety matter), another obvious idea is to “push” extra liquids into the meat. Yes, you may use an injector, and by all means, if you’re in a hurry, do use it, indeed! However, there is a much simpler and basic way – brining!
Brining, in principle, works thanks to a chemical process called osmosis. Without getting too deep into scientific terms, it’s when the water tends to move from less concentrated environment to a more concentrated one. How does it apply to chicken? Here we go!
For the brine we will need (per each 1 litre of brine):
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 10 berries of whole allspice
- 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 1/3 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with a side of the knife
- 2 thin lemon slices
- 50 ml (~ 2 l. oz) good blended scotch whiskey – I had Johnnie Walker Red Label – works just fine.
Use the amount of water which will be required to ensure all the breasts are fully submerged – between 2 to 4 litres.
Make sure you calculate all the amounts of the ingredients for the total amount of water, e.g. for 2 litres – use 6 tbsp of brown sugar, 4 tbsp of salt etc.
To make the brine, take a pot, put in all the ingredients together with 1 litre of water and bring to boil, stirring until salt and sugar are fully dissolved. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, to make sure the spices give their aromas and tastes to the water. Then set aside.
Ideally, you’re supposed to boil the whole amount of brine and let it cool to a room temperature, but here’s the life hack I use – ice! I freeze about 1 litre of water and once my brine is off the heat – big ice block goes in and the brine is instantly ready to use. If I need more liquid – just adding more, till I get to the needed amount.
Take a big bowl, pot or a gastronome, put the chicken breasts in and pour the brine over. Cover with plastic wrap and off it goes to your fridge for at least overnight.
During the brining process the meat plays the role of “less concentrated environment”, and for a couple of hours the brine “sucks” the water out of the meat, effectively drying it. However, at some point the meat loses so much water it becomes the “more concentrated environment” – and to balance the things the process reverses! Now the meat is absorbing water, and together with the water all the tastes and aromas we have given the brine. This brings me to the most important commandment of the brining – YOU SHALL NOT RUSH! The meat should be left in the brine for at least 12 hours to allow this process to happen (and if you brine the whole bird – 24 hours is just the right time).
Grilling – now that really can vary. My preferred method – high heat, 3-4 minutes sear on each side, and then – indirect medium-high heat for about 15 minutes, but you can also go direct – 5-6 minutes on medium heat, flipping 3 times, so each side faces the fire twice.
Checking for readiness – either with a poke test, if you’ve got the experience, or simply with the meat thermometer – it should register 70C (160F) in the thickest part of the breast.
That’s it! Slice and enjoy!