Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

How to brine chicken, quick chicken brine recipe—why do we need quick? Because usually when I realize I need to brine something it’s too late to make and cool the brine, and then go through the hours of brining. I always brine chickens that I intend to fry. Always. Well, almost always, sometimes, the urge comes too fast and powerfully even to do this, but normally I have at least four hours before I need to get the chicken floured and plunked into the fat. Here’s what I do when I need to brine fast .

As I write in Ratio: The Simple Codes etc., my ideal brine is 5%. That means 50 grams of salt in a liter of water, 1 ounce of salt for every 20 ounces of water, or for those poor souls without a scale, 2 tablespoons Morton’s coarse kosher salt for every 2.5 cups water.  It’s powerful enough to work, but not so powerful that you will make the meat too salty if it stays too long in the brine. (It’s also the perfect ratio for making naturally sour pickles!)

But.  If you want to brine more quickly, make a stronger brine.  I double it to a 10% salt solution, 100 grams salt per 1000 grams/milliliters water (gosh I love metric).  But there’s still a time issue: if you want to add aromatics and ensure you dissolve the salt, you’ve got to heat the brine (and water takes forever to cool; can’t wait that long).

So: When that powerful, powerful urge to have fried chicken strikes at midday, I make a 10% brine but use only half the water.  I bring this, along with herbs and garlic and lemon to a simmer, let it steep for 10 minutes, then add the rest of the water as ice (another handy use for a scale, weighing frozen water).  By the time the ice is dissolved, minutes, the brine is cool.  I throw it all in a plastic bag and leave it at room temp for 2 to 3 hours, remove it, rinse it, and let it rest for another hour or so, to give the heavy salt concentration on the exterior time to penetrate and equalize.

And there it is. Ta. Da!  Quick-brined chicken.

Lemon-Herb Brine for 1 Chicken, whole or cut into pieces

  • 15 ounces water (or 1/2 liter)
  • 3 ounces salt (or 100 grams)
  • fresh herbs (I used sage above)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 small onion sliced
  • 1 lemon halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns, cracked beneath a saute pan
  • 15 ounces ice (500 grams ice), or 15 ounces of ice water
  • 1 chicken (3 to 4 pounds)
  1. Combine all of the above except the ice and chicken in a small pan and bring to a boil over high heat.  Cover and remove from the heat and let sit for ten minutes.
  2. Put the ice  (or ice water) in a bowl or large measuring cup.  Pour the herb brine over the ice.  Stir till the ice is dissolved.
  3. Put the chicken in a plastic bag, pour the brine in, seal the bag, and let sit at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours.
  4. Remove the chicken from the bag, discarding the brine.  Pat it dry and let it sit out for another hour before using (or you can refrigerate it till needed).  Great for roasting, but especially fine for frying.