Herb-brined, roasted chicken, photo by Donna

Herb-brined, roasted chicken, photo by Donna

I normally don’t brine chicken.  I roast a chicken about once a week and it’s a step I just don’t think about since salting the bird before I roast it works perfectly fine.  Also, I don’t like the skin of a brined and roasted bird—it’s too thin and dehydrated.  But on Sunday, I had the time and was curious to find out if, as I’ve read and repeated, meat that has been brined is heavier (and therefore potentially juicier) than non-brined meat.  I also had fresh herbs left over from the dumplings in the previous post.  While I always use a rosemary brine for fried chicken, I was curious to find out if the more delicate tarragon flavor would come through in the flesh of the bird.  So I made a brine using my standard, yes, ratio: 20 : 1, with fresh herbs, lemon, onion and garlic.

My bird weighed 59.29 ounces/1681 grams before being brined.  After twenty hours in the brine, patted dry, it weighed 62.91 ounces/1783 grams.  This means that my brined bird now contained an additional 3.62 ounces/102 grams of flavorful liquid.  That’s nearly half a cup!

And this chicken pictured here?  It was juicy, and the interior flesh was beautifully flavored with the tarragon and chive.  So all in all, a confirmation of the power of a brine.

Lemon-Tarragon Brine for Roast Chicken

30 ounces water

2 ounces salt

1 lemon, quartered

1 bunch chives

1 bunch tarragon

1 medium onion, sliced

4 or 5 cloves garlic

10 ounces ice

Combine all the ingredients in a small sauce pan, bring to a simmer, remove the pan from the heat, cover it and let the ingredients steep.  Add the ice to cool down the brine (if you’re not in a hurry, you can measure out 40 ounces of water and omit the ice).

To brine your chicken, put it in a large plastic bag, pour in the brine.  Press as much air out of the bag as possible,  and twist and tie off your bag so that no air is touching your bird.  Put the bag in a bowl and refrigerate it for 8 to 24 hours, turning the bird a couple of times to ensure all surfaces are receiving the brine.

Remove the chicken from the brine at least an hour and up to two days before cooking it (discard the brine).  Rinse it, dry it, and roast it (450 degrees F for 1 hour, stick a lemon in cavity if you’re not trussing).

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46 Wonderful responses to “Lemon-Tarragon Brine for Roasted Chicken”

  • michael

    brendon: skin was actually pretty good. and the meat was so tasty i was glad i’d brined it.

    horton: yes, i always roast it in a skillet! (roasting pans, sides are too high, don’t get good circulation around the bird).

  • stephanie

    i love that you also roast your chicken in a cast iron skillet! i’ve been doing this for a while now, and i adore how the bird comes out. i usually throw a bag of organic baby carrots underneath (an easy way to get my kids to eat veggies, have them soaked in excess chicken fat!) and i still get some schmaltz to save for later.

    then, you’ll be happy to know, i also roast a chicken about once a week, and after i save the carcasses until i have three in the freezer, and then i make stock. :)

    you are an inspiration. thank you!!

  • Gabe

    I brined the chicken I roasted for Christmas on a whim. Let it sit overnight, and wow that had to be the juiciest chicken I have ever had. Im never roasting chicken again without letting it get some brine time.

  • ScottR

    … 59.29 ounces/1681 grams …62.91 ounces/1783 grams…3.62 ounces/102 grams …30 ounces water…

    Just pick one unit and stick with it. There are web sites that convert for people who need the other.

  • chappy

    For Thanksgiving, brining a turkey is the only way to go in my mind. It seems that the turkey cooks faster, and yet, is more resilient to overcooking, when brined.

    Michael, I think it is interesting that you are so anti-brine. I recently got the Thomas Keller cookbook and he stresses the importance of brining for meats and fish. I made his scallop recipe recently, which calls for a short brine, and the scallops I made were delicious by a magnitude over anything I’d ever made. (Of course it could be that he also recommends the use of clarified butter, so maybe it’s that flavor that I’m loving).

  • yd

    He devotes a decent portion of Ratio to the process of brining and recipes for flavored brines. I was actually surprised he doesn’t brine chickens for roasting given the praise in Ratio.

  • sygyzy

    I stopped making roast chicken because there’s no way of preventing fat/oil from splattering (exploding) all over the oven (door, sides, tops and bottom) then causing my smoke alarm to go off. I use Keller’s technique. It’s not surprising considering the super high heat for roasting.

  • Cookin' Canuck

    A skillet for roasting? That never occurred to me. I can’t believe the amount of additional liquid in the chicken after brining it. I”m looking forward to trying this.

  • Rebecca

    I roast chickens in a straight-sided glass pie plate; I got who knows where who knows how long ago; it’s the perfect diameter and just deep enough to keep things tidy, and since it cools faster than cast iron, it’s easier to handle out of the oven..
    Re brining and liquid absorption: I wonder if white and dark meat absorb the brine differently.

  • Danny

    I have to second what sygyzy says. I’ve tried roasting at 500, 450, and 425 and so far I’ve smoked out my house every time. I even tried my 12″ lodge cast-iron skillet last time but it was no better.

    I also notice that the cooking times are much longer than the hour that you provide even with a smaller chicken. I’m getting an oven thermometer to make sure that my oven is calibrated but I’m wondering if you rest your chicken outside of the refrigerator to bring the temp up a bit before putting it in the oven.

    Short of having a commercial hood installed what can I do to cut back on the smoke?

  • B

    I tried brining a chicken a few months ago and will never roast without brining again.

    I tend to follow America’s Test Kitchen’s guide for the brine; 1/2cup sugar, 1/2 salt (plus a little if you use kosher) per quart of water. I know, I know, crazy imperial measures. It’s not an exact science.

    I also spatchcock/butterfly the chicken before brining (cut out the backbone and lay flat). This has a few bonuses. I sear the bird, breast down, in a cast iron skillet on the stove. This gets a nice start on crispy, brown skin, and since the bird is flat, the thighs and drumsticks get a nice sear too. 5-10 minutes of that, and then 10 minutes or so in the oven around 450, turn over and another 10-15 minutes and it’s done in about half the time.

    I haven’t noticed that adding any flavorings to the brine has imparted much flavor in the end meat. Last time I tried making a simple herb paste in a food processor with some olive oil and put it on after flipping the bird (yes), and it worked pretty well.

    I’ve brined and spatchcocked a turkey too with excellent results. That was for a party of about 12 people and they were still talking about how tender and well done the meat was, months later, asking for another party. Of course, didn’t do that one in the skillet, don’t have one big enough.

    I actually haven’t tried brining for as long as you suggest, Michael; 1-4 hours seems fine for chickens. The turkey brined overnight, maybe 10 hours tops. It’s important to rinse it off very well and let it dry, too. It’s pretty easy to manage your time and prep all this, though; I really, really can’t urge people to try it enough. Well, I could, but I don’t have the cattle prod handy.

  • georgia.pellegrini

    High five for finding a new way to use your leftovers! Despite the extra trouble, a brine can do so much for the chicken. I love tarragon and I will have to incorporate this into my next roast chicken.

  • Guy

    I am now fully on the roasted chicken bandwagon too (thanks, Mr. Ruhlman!). But finding a good local chicken isn’t always so easy. So I’m still looking.

  • Max

    I always brine, mostly because of what I read in ratio. I’m very surprised you don’t. The chicken is always fine without it, but always better with it. I brine as soon as I get home from the market. I hope what you wrote about the meat lasting longer is true…

  • Jan

    I like your trussing technique, can you show or explain it in more detail? Where do you tie the ends of the twine, under the chicken?

  • Natalie Sztern

    For me, chicken is the go-to on-the-fly-when I have thought of nothing to cook ahead of time; having said that I would never make a Turkey without bringing first: But it’s a planned thing.

  • Jan

    What wonderful timing! I was just looking around the web for info on brining; I am trying to make smoked chicken breasts a little moister and this info, while not specific to smoking, is a nice addition to my research. Thanks! I always roast in my cast iron skillet when I live in climates that allow such oven heat, but here in the Caribbean, I can only stand to do any whole chicken cooking on the grill. Like another reader, I also cook veggies underneath, usually onions, carrots and potatos. Also like another reader, I would also like a little tutorial on trussing. Thanks as always!

  • luis

    This brine recipe I like. The proportions seem right. They are right. I hate to say it Michael but I shamellesly copied it into my managed recipe database.
    It seems I may be able to use my anolon grilling pan to roast the chicken in the oven. but I have a heavy metal half cookie sheet that will work just fine. I can line it with aluminum foil for easy clean up.
    I am to a point that I layer everything. I don’t think vegetables and proteins are made to be cooked in one pot. and if you do then leave the veggies for last. I also think that pre cooking the bird to some low level in the microwave before going into the hot oven to brown and finish roasting might be a good idea.

  • Liz Larkin

    Have adopted your cast-iron skillet technique for roast chicken. I love it. So, what are we making with the leftovers this week?

  • ruhlman

    I’m not anti-brine, i’m pro brine. but for weekly roast chicken, i like the texture of the skin better when it’s just been salted. I don’t even like to salt a day ahead as some people insist on. Brining boneless skinless breasts, well, if you must eat them, then definitely brine them. pork is great to brine. brine salmon for 10 minutes to keep the white stuff from squeezing out when you cook it.

    as for oven and smoke, there’s no way around it. animal fats smoke below 400 degrees. i would recommend 425 and a very clean oven or a grill for those without a hood.

    i need to do a trussing video, all the ones i can find on line are ridiculous.

  • todd

    Best brined chicken I ever ate was done by my son-in-laws grandpa who was visiting him from central Mexico.

    Lime, cilantro and garlic…. brined overnight and grilled on indirect charcoal. absolutely delicious!

  • diana

    Yes, please, make a trussing video! I keep trying Julia’s method in “The Way to Cook” and it never quite works the way it’s supposed to. I even bought the special needle–it’s craziness. (With all due respect to J.C.)

  • Jac

    Please do a trussing video… I’ve never trussed a bird, and don’t see a *huge* need for it, but it would be nice to learn.

  • Pete from DC

    Another vote for a trussing video. Even better would be to add to it:

    i) Slo-mo for the tricky bits

    ii) After your video segment showing us how to truss a chicken properly, bring in someone (or two individuals) who has never trussed a chicken before and have them try to do it on their own (with you assisting where needed, if needed), so we can see what mistakes we might make when we try this in our own kitchens (I will even volunteer, haha).

    Nice chicken! Love “Ratio”!

  • Rhonda

    Michael;

    Don’t forget fresh Thyme!

    You and Chef Keller taught me to pay attention to this and quite frankly, it is fabulous!

    You may not have had fresh Thyme available at this partricular moment.

    Understandable.

    To me, Tarragon, is the “Ringo Starr” of Herbs. It is always there but not really necessary and until it is gone you do not know how much better things could have been without it initially.

    Personal taste. However, until you got me on the Thyme Bandwagon, my palate was somewhat different.

    Yes, I used the word “Fabulous” but then again, I am a girl….

    - R

    xxx

    P.S – Please, People, do not buy skinless, boneless chicken breasts.

  • Rhonda

    Ruhls,

    I have read Pete from DC’s comment.

    Very interesting.

    If you do decide to go this way, please — let me know, because I have the perfect person for you.

    I will personally pay for his airfare to Cleveland with the understanding that he must never, ever, come back.

    Ever.

    You will love him.

    He can stay with you and look after the kids on the weekend. I am not sure if he is a registered Sex Offender because every time I call Immigration to get more information, they put me on hold. However, he is nice enough and calls himself a Chef even though he can’t cook worth shit. Today is Thursday. I can have him there by Monday if you like.

    Best,

    Rhonda

  • mary lynn

    @Jason. Thanks for the link to Jacques Pepin on how to truss a chicken. It was really very good and easy. But what would one expect from a demo by a master chef like him?

  • ruhlman

    jason, i like the pepin video. I’m not sure i understand the reason for squeezing the leg tips and butt together. I don’t think it’s necessary to remove the wishbone, though that depends on how you want to carve it. i just love listening to the guy.

  • Kristine

    I use Bourdain’s (from “Les Halles cookbook”) no-string method of trussing. Just cut a slit in the “achilles” of one of the legs an slip the other leg through the slit. Cut off the tips of the wings.

  • Brooke @ Food Woolf

    I wonder just how many home kitchens across this country roast chickens for their Monday night supper. For more than a year now, I’ve bought a free-range bird from “my chicken guy” at the farmers market every Sunday. After the market I take my free-range bird home, put thyme underneath its skin, and sprinkle it with salt.

    And, every Monday night around 6 or 7, I roast that bird in my cast iron skillet (Zuni Café-style) and think about just how excited I am to do the whole thing all over again. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

    Maybe I’ll mix things up a bit with my roast chicken routine, too.

  • Metaxa

    I brine and I don’t truss.

    But I do cut a slit into the skin just under the rearmost tip of the breast and slip each leg “knuckle” into that. Good enough.

    Mostly I do the remove back bone and flatten thing with poultry.

    If you have time, brine, rinse and then onto a rack in the fridge covered by a dish cloth overnight and the next day allows the skin to air dry and it becomes crispy and so very, very good upon roasting.

    Makes it a two day affair tho. Your choice.

  • luis

    Guys,….I have your trussing right heeeeeeeeere!….Truss your ass…
    If you want to cook a bird evennnnnnnnnn….. then spatchcock it! I am a butterfly guy… But hey we are all family here and the only wrong thing to do is NOT to participate in tthis livelly discussion….

  • jeff

    Before you brine, be sure your bird is not already “augmented” or “enhanced” as many vendors now water load their poultry with an 8-12% solution using potassium chloride as the salt. Not only can the fowl become too salty, but flavours won’t be absorbed into the chicken.

    Just a couple of suggestions to “tweak” your approach? Remove the two fat deposits on the flaps of the large cavity, and position them under the skin of the breast. Placing them high up on the breast, and closing the neck flap with a toothpick or large paperclip, then inserting a two thirds full can of beer in the large cavity, and tenting the top of the bird with pandamus (bai tooey), banana leaves, or foil for ten or fifteen minutes at your suggested 450F, then dropping the heat to 325F or below (removing the tent) with a preheated cast iron skillet lets the whole bird cook evenly in 45 minutes or less. Tripod the legs with the can to enable the bird to stand upright.

    A decade ago I had to use an oven which was only on or off, like a old biplane, so I’d rage the flame until it was over 500F, put the brined bird impaled on a can in the preheated skillet, then shut it down. I’ve found fowl has a tendency to express all the extra liquid absorbed through brining if the temperature is not lowered after the initial fat rendering blast of the furnace.

    Adding a half cup of boiling water to the skillet for that first ten to fifteen minutes stifles the smoking.

    Flavours can be introduced through the liquid in the can. The can’s liquids are essentially useless after cooking, but the pan’s juices are less “scummy” are more gravy worthy then without a can in my experience.

    Anything you fancy can be put under the skin with the fat. I like to dice it and add dried powdered chanterelles (and sometimes C. rhacodes or L. procera (contributes a “nutty” aspect)) as it makes for a “fruity” gravy. Black truffle butter is acceptable in a pinch too. Garlic is always good.

    I use a Foster’s lager “oil can” for turkey.

    Following the Asian protocol, prepping and canning the bird, and then standing it in front of a fan for an hour will allow the roasting to crisp the skin. It also “tightens” the skin, so it’s important to put whatever you want under the skin before fanning the fowl.

    I don’t lay claim to inventing any of these techniques. An “aside” in an old Chinese cookbook a quarter century ago about how wild fowl were commonly brined to make up for their lower fat content, and the common practice of soaking “bagged” waterfowl in a milk brine to reduce their gamy flavour turned me on to the brine. I don’t know who “invented” “beer can chicken”, but it’s a great approach. Okay, wild mushroom powder under the skin may be mine, though I’ve only been collecting and consuming for a decade and a half, so I’m likely late to that party….

    Apologies for prattling on so; I’ve enjoyed your writing in your books and just thought to contribute. Spirit moved me and perhaps I’ve had too much coffee.

  • ScottR

    If you don’t have time to brine, a kosher chicken, if available, is a good choice.

  • Citrus

    Remedy for all brined skin issues:
    1. Rinse outside really well,
    2. Dry outside really well,
    3. Apply some oil to the bird before roasting.

    Perfect every time!