Like it or not, planning ahead is not always possible in the kitchen. Things come up, you see something massively discounted and you can’t say no, or the sofa’s too comfy. It’s therefore important to have some tricks up your sleeve for shaving off hours from the usually time-heavy tasks. Let’s face it, a supermarket chicken tastes of very little. That said, roast chicken is fantastic, and being able to make a flavourless bird suddenly become something altogether different in the space of a couple of hours is a miracle.
Of course an overnight brine is better, but when time is against you, you can’t go wrong with this. The flavours penetrate the bird, it’s perfectly seasoned throughout, and the texture of the meat is much better with dryness no longer an issue. The sciencey bit, diffusion, also makes those wasted Biology classes of years gone feel like they were all worth it.
This works just as well for a whole chicken ready for roasting as it does for a whole load of chicken legs and thighs. Also, it’s very flexible. Stick to the basic recipe for water, sugar and salt, but you can mix and match all of the other aromatics to your own tastes or what you have handy.
50g brown sugar
4 cloves of garlic, lightly crushed in their skins
1 onion, quartered
A handful of herbs, we like a mix of thyme and sage
1 tbsp each of black pepper corns and coriander seeds, toasted then lightly crushed
1 lemon, halved
2 bay leaves
1 whole chicken
1. Combine all the ingredients, bar the chicken, in a saucepan, and bring to the boil, ensuring that all the sugar and salt has dissolved. Turn off the heat when it comes to the boil and leave for 10-15 mins to infuse.
2. Pour in 500 ml more of cold water, along with a good handful or two of ice cubes, and stir until melted.
3. Pour the brine into a large sealable food bag or a large plastic container, then add the chicken, topping up the water as needed to make sure it’s completely submerged. Putting a side plate on top of it is a good idea if it keeps bobbing up in the plastic container. Leave it for 3 hours at room temperature to let it do its thing.
4. When ready, discard the brine and pat the bird dry. It’s now ready for whatever you want to do with it. For a great roast, rub the chicken with a little olive oil and season, and put on top of some chunkily chopped root vegetables and onions and a few peeled cloves of garlic, lightly coated in olive oil. Put into a pre-heated 240°C oven for 15 minutes, before turning it down to 200°C and cooking until the juices run clear or the internal temperature is 74°C/165°F, around 1 hour (depending on the bird’s size).