Sunday, November 4, 2018

Ready. Set. Brine. Feta-Brined Roasted Whole Chicken

Does brining matter? That's what a friend and I asked ourselves when we were making fried chicken. Like budding scientists, we did a controlled experiment.

We brined two pieces of thigh meat overnight in a solution of water, kosher salt and white sugar with black peppercorns and bay leaves. The next day, we washed off the brine and aromatics and gave those thighs the same amount of time in a buttermilk soak as the unbrined pieces. Then we dredged them in seasoned flour and fried them. The resulting differences were amazing.

No doubt about it. The brined chicken was more tender and moist.


Knowing that brining made a difference led me to try brining a whole chicken. The results, just like the fried chicken, were very good. Now I use the same technique when prepping our turkey for Thanksgiving.

Then, one day Googling around the internet when I should have been writing, I stumbled on a recipe that changed the way I had been brining.

Melissa Clark, the wonderful New York Times food writer, is always on the look out for ways to improve on familiar techniques and dishes. In the article I read, she talked about adding feta to the brine before roasting a whole chicken. Salty, crumbly cheese in a brine. Brilliant!

What follows is my riff on her original idea which is less of an improvement and more of a dirt path off the road she already paved.

Feta-Brined Roasted Whole Chicken

As with anything in life, begin with good ingredients and you'll achieve better results. That is especially true in cooking. So, buy a good plump, pale-pink skinned chicken, one that was raised without hormones. 

Size matters, especially depending on how many you are serving. A five-pound chicken is good for a dinner of four as long as there is a salad course before and side dishes served with the entre. If the chicken is one of several proteins, say a brown sugar salmon filetpork ribs or charred steaks, then one chicken will serve up to eight.

My mother and grandmother taught me that to waste food is a sin. In this case, that means always reserve the pan drippings, giblets, neck, heart, bones and carcass of the chicken to make a best-ever stock that you can use to make a to-die-for chicken-vegetable-rice soup or chicken and dumplings.

If a liver came with the chicken, use it to make a tasty mushroom-chicken liver pate to serve as an amuse bouche.

Only use Diamond Crystal kosher salt. All the other brands I've seen put in chemical additives. Diamond Crystal does not.

Line a roasting sheet tray with 1" sides with aluminum foil or a Silpat sheet.  A sheet tray with sides lower than a roasting pan facilitates browning on the sides of the chicken.


 Serves 4

Time to brine: at least one hour or overnight

Time to prep: 15 minutes

Time to cook: 60 - 90 minutes depending on size of chicken

Time to rest before serving: 5 minutes

Special Cooking Tools 

Roasting rack

Cooking Twine

12"-14" kitchen tongs

Roasting sheet tray (with a 1" rim)

Aluminum foil and Silpat sheet to fit the roasting sheet tray

Ingredients for roasting

1 whole 5 pound chicken, liver, giblets, neck and heart removed, washed

Ingredients for the brine

1/4 cup fresh feta, preferably Bulgarian (because it is less expensive), crumbled

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon white sugar

4 bay leaves, whole

1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Ingredients for the topping

1 medium onion, washed, top and root end removed, peeled, sliced thin

1/2 cup Italian parsley, stems and leaves, washed, drained, finely chopped

1/4 cup fresh feta, Bulgarian, crumbled

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Small bowl of flake salt (optional) on the table

Directions for brining

Use twine to tie together the legs and wings.

Place the chicken, salt, sugar and aromatics into a large heavy plastic bag or a container with a lid. Fill with cold water until the chicken is submerged. Seal. If using a plastic bag, place in a large bowl so the water doesn't leak.

Refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Directions for Roasting

Preheat oven to 400F.  Place the roasting rack on top of a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and a Silpat sheet for easier cleanup.

Remove the chicken from the brine. Rinse, pat dry and allow to rest uncovered for 10 minutes.

Drain the brine and remove the feta and reserve.

In a bowl, mix together the feta from the brine, the additional feta, onion, parsley, sea salt and black pepper.

Rub olive oil over the chicken. Add remaining olive oil to the feta-onion-parlsey topping and mix well. Set aside.

Place chicken onto the roasting rack, breast down and put into the preheated oven. Roast for thirty to forty-five minutes or until the skin is brown and crisp to the touch.

Reduce oven to 350F.

Using tongs, turn over the chicken, being careful not to tear the skin. Place the chicken breast-side up on the roasting rack.

Cover the breast-side up chicken with the feta-onion-parlsey topping.  The mound of onions will seem large, but will greatly reduce during cooking. If any bits fall onto the bottom of the baking tray, no worries, you can scoop them up later.


Return to the oven. After 30 minutes, check for doneness. Wiggle a chicken leg. If there is resistance, the chicken needs more time. If the topping is getting too brown, place a sheet of aluminum over the top like a tent. Roast another 15 minutes and check for doneness. Continue roasting until the leg moves freely.

Remove from the oven and place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top so the chicken rests for 5 minutes.

Remove aluminum foil. Carve in the kitchen or at the table. Use a recently sharpened knife or kitchen sheers. Plate the chicken with the charred onion-feta-parsley mix on top.

Serve hot with sides of roasted potatoes, squash or salt boiled spinach.

Place a small bowl of flake salt on the table. The crunch of the salt will add to the pleasures of the dish.

Preparing the stock

Once the chicken has been carved, reserve all the bones and pan drippings. If there isn't time to make stock that night, refrigerate and make the next day. Add the reserved heart and gizzard. Place in a large pot with water to cover and simmer 60 minutes. After straining, the stock can be refrigerated and used within two days or frozen in sealed containers and used for up to six months. Discard bones and carcass after removing any bits of meat to use in chicken-vegetable soup.