Roasted chicken is one of those dishes that while very popular – both prepared and eaten everyday by many – has a certain mystique about it. In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One, Julia (and if you have to ask who this is, well shame on you!) states, “you can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by roast chicken.” Her exceptionally detailed recipe, with it’s trussing and endless basting is wonderful and for the novice home cook, will guide you toward the epitome of poultry perfection.
Reading through her description of how to know when the chicken is done; “a sudden rain of sputters in the oven, a swelling of the breast and slight puff of the skin…” I can hear in my head her breathy, high-pitched voice and this makes me smile. Julia and I go back a long way you see, and her television show and cookbooks inspired me probably as much as my own mother. But that’s a story for another post. Right now, I’m all about the chicken and in particular, tea brined chicken.
A few years back I roasted a tea brined turkey for Thanksgiving and in a word, it was fantastic. I figured this technique would work for any kind of poultry and happily it makes roasting the juiciest, most flavorful chicken at home easy – without all that trussing and basting (sorry Julia!)
I brine my bird between 20 and 24 hours, however a little less ‘brine time’ will work as well and would be advantageous if the chicken is small. I would estimate that a 2 ½-3 lb. chicken should only brine 10- 12 hours. Leftover tea brined chicken makes splendid chicken salad too!
Tea Brined Chicken
- (1) 4 – 4-½ lb. whole chicken, trimmed of excess fat, washed and dried
- 8 regular size tea bags or 2 family size tea bags
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- various fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme & oregano is a good combination)
- 3-4 whole garlic cloves, sliced in half
- 2-3 Tbl. butter
- Pepper, preferably fresh ground
Make the tea: Heat about 4 cups of water in a pot with a lid. Bring to a low boil, add tea bags, and remove from heat and cover. Allow to steep 3 minutes. Remove tea bags, squeezing them gently. Discard the used tea bags. In a large pitcher or bowl add the salt and sugar. Pour tea over this and stir well. Add 2-3 cups of ice and stir. Allow to cool to room temperature and place in the refrigerator to cool.
In an extra large plastic bag (that zips securely closed) add the herbs and the garlic and pour in the tea. Then place the chicken in the bag and secure. Place the chicken (you can place the bag in another bowl or pan just in case of leaks) in the refrigerator.
The chicken will remain in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours but at least 12 hours for a 4 lb. bird. Turn the chicken over 2-3 times in the course of the entire marinating time so the brine is sure to reach the chicken evenly.
When ready to roast heat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare your roasting pan by placing the rack inside it and greasing the rack lightly with oil and a brush or use a spray oil. Cut the butter into smaller pieces, 5 or 6. Remove the chicken from the brine and place breast side up on the rack. Discard the brine. Slide 1-2 pieces of the butter between one side of the breast meat and the skin and do the same on the other side. Place the last bit or two of butter inside the chicken cavity. Sprinkle the breast, legs, etc. of the chicken lightly with pepper.
Roast the chicken in the oven for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees and continue to roast until the juices run clear – about 45 minutes and/or the internal temperature registers 160-170 degrees in the thickest area. (Poke the thermometer into the thigh just above the leg). You will want to check the bird after about 20-25 minutes into the roasting (at 350 degrees) for desired brownness. The tea will give the bird a wonderful color but it can get too brown too fast. So check and when browned to your liking, just place a piece of foil very loosely as a tent over the bird. This will stop the browning, more or less.
Once the chicken is done, remove from the oven and allow to rest (under the tent) for about 5-10 minutes. Carve as per usual.