Nutritionally, a pastured chicken is far superior to traditionally raised chicken. Chickens that are running around on pasture eating insects, worms, and forage have a great taste, but they also have muscle tone. And chickens with muscle tone are not tender. With a lot of trial and error, I have learned the secret to cooking a tender chicken. The answer is simple. Brining the chicken results in moist and tender meat. There are numerous scientific explanations available on the internet as to why this works. Whatever. I’m interested in how. To every gallon of water, I stir in 1 cup of kosher salt and 1/2 cup of sugar. You may use sea salt, but it’s pricey. And I use organic sugar. I find that a gallon of water is generally just enough to cover an average size chicken. Sometimes I add onion or bay leaves to the water. Sometimes I don’t. I don’t find that it makes a huge difference. I add the chicken to the brine and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. I then remove the chicken and pat it dry. I season according to the recipe I am using but I omit the salt in the recipe.
Before I learned this secret I was slow cooking the bird in order to tenderize it. Every meal tasted like chicken soup. I like chicken soup. When I’m eating chicken soup. But not every time I eat chicken. I find that I can now cook chicken a variety of ways with success. For roasting, it is generally best to cover your roasting pan. The dark meat lends itself beautifully to braising and the boneless breasts are wonderful for stir fry. Or I may cut the chicken into pieces and grill it or roast it covered in homemade barbecue sauce.
Let me know if you try this method and what you think. And if you have any tips, let me know. I’m always open to new ways of cooking pastured poultry.
Update: A reader, Diana, commented and provided some extremely helpful information that is worth adding directly to this post:
|We raise free-range, pastured poultry, and yes, they have more muscle tone. BUT they are still extremely tender. Not tough at all. One thing most people don’t know is that the chicken needs to “rest” in cold, but not freezing conditions, for 1-2 days before freezing. Many processors boast that their birds get frozen immediately after processing, and customers get the impression that this is a safer, better product. All it does is make for a tough bird that needs brining. The chemicals responsible for rigormortis have to break down a little before being frozen. That said, we usually roast ours whole. No brining, just some olive oil or butter, herbs, usually some lemon. Trick is to start with a HOT oven, (425) for 15-20 minutes, then push it down to 350 for the remaining 45 minutes. Thermometer in breast has to read 165, at least. THEN, let bird rest again for 10 minutes before carving, to keep more of the juice inside the meat.|