I grew up in a house without salt. I could list a whole lot of other spices too but just to be simple, salt was not used in my mother's cooking. Fran didn't do salt, she thought it was unhealthful along with carbonation (makes your insides explode) sugar (makes kids crazy) and any vegetable not cooked for over an hour. Even though Fran was of Italian ancestry, if you asked her about Al Dente she probably would have told you that was a guy she went to middle school with. With those standards, brining was obviously something I did not grow up with, and if brining was off the table don't even mention smoking.
My father was a fireman. We didn't play with smoke around my house, or matches. I grew up with a fireplace stuffed with red cellophane. A little wheel behind the cellophane made it look like a burning log when it was plugged in. But it was never plugged in lest the cellophane get too hot and burst into flames consuming our house and all of us. In reality, this had about as much of a chance of happening as the light bulb in my Easy Bake Oven turning into the Hadron Collider. Which is why, just in case of that happening, they took the light bulb out of my Easy Bake Oven. After countless attempts at heatless baking with tiny tins of tiny cake batter I finally turned my Easy Bake Oven on its side and used it as a parking garage for my toy fire engine and rescue ambulance. Is it any wonder I grew up fascinated with fireplaces, hot stoves, the smell of woodsmoke and brining?
If you have never brined meat or fish I highly recommend it. Brining's an excellent way to cook something while still preserving moisture and adding flavor. It's great for lean meats such as turkey, chicken or pork. Brined meats and fish can be barbecued, roasted, poached and best of all smoked. Smoking can easily dry food out, which is why some people wrap lean meat in bacon before they smoke it (as if anyone needed an excuse to wrap anything in bacon.) Brining can make bacon wrapping or barding unnecessary.
When I tossed my CheeseFest a month ago I wanted to guarantee that the chicken I was going to smoke turned out tender and moist, so before smoking I gave it a deep soak in brine, and by brine I don't just mean salt and water. Brines are used to add flavor and that means nearly anything can be added to a brine, garlic, herbs, onion, even honey. If that's the flavor one is after by all means add it. Since I was planning a wide variety of flavors on the table for that particular feast I kept the brine simple. Consider this a jumping off point.
Brined Maple Smoked Chicken
Here's What You Need:
3 chicken breasts, boned
8 cups of water
2 cups ice water
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 Bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks broken in pieces
1/4 cup maple syrup
Here's What To Do:
Mix the water and kosher salt together in a large pot.
Toss in the bay leaves and peppercorns and cinnamon sticks.
Bring everything to a strong boil.
Once it's started boiling, take it off the heat and toss in 2 cups of ice water.
Let the brine cool off totally, then put it into the fridge.
It's important that the brine be below 40 degrees before you put anything into it.
Remember, the brine must be chilled below 40 degrees before adding in any meat and chicken must be at 165 degrees internal temp to be safe to eat.
Once the brine is chilled to below 40 degrees, add the chicken to the pot.
One way to do this to guarantee a correct safe temperature, is to make the brine the day before so it has enough time to chill.
If you are handling chicken or any food wash your hands thoroughly. I wash my hands like a raccoon whenever I cook.
Place a lid on the pot and pop it back in the fridge.
Leave the chicken in the brine for 1 and 1/2 hours.
Take your chicken out of the brine, and pat it dry with paper towels.
Place the chicken on a baking rack and let it air dry for a short while.
At this point you can do whatever you wish with the chicken and it will retain its moisture.
I decided to smoke the chicken over maple wood.
I have a Camerons Stovetop Smoker. As a matter of fact I have two of them and they are one of my favorite wedding gifts to give. They're compact and easy to use.
Put 2 Tbs of maple wood chips in the bottom of the smoker.
Brush the chicken breasts with 1/4 cup of pure maple syrup.
Place a foil lined tray onto to the wood chips. Lay the chicken on the tray.
Close the lid of the smoker except for a tiny bit left open.
Turn the heat up to medium high. When wisps of smoke start to come out of the gap in the lid, (a sign the wood is smoking) close the lid all the way.
Smoke the chicken for about 30 minutes.
Check the temperature with a meat thermometer. When it reads 165 degrees, it's done.
I served this maple smoked chicken with a whole buffet of cheeses, breads and salads. I let the guest make their own sandwiches.The chicken turned out smokey and moist with a taste of maple flavor.
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