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Soak chicken in sugar brine to get a juicy and flavorful roast

A brine made of brown sugar and salt ups the flavor factor. Once your chicken is done cooking in a cast-iron skillet in the oven, remove the sauce and browned bits and serve them on the side.

Ileana Morales | Special to the Times

A brine made of brown sugar and salt ups the flavor factor. Once your chicken is done cooking in a cast-iron skillet in the oven, remove the sauce and browned bits and serve them on the side.

On our main cookbook shelf sits Mark Bittman's bright red tome of a cookbook, the one with recipes for everything. Flip to Page 645 of our copy, and you'll see a recipe bordered in the scribbles of my boyfriend's scratchy reporter handwriting. There are tweaks and exclamation marks.

Now that we've got this recipe for roast chicken down, it deserves an exclamation mark or two.

I know what you're thinking. This is probably the first thing we should have learned how to do. Everyone knows how to roast a basic chicken, right? Or they should. Now we do, and it's one of the best things ever.

It took a few tries (five or so?) to get it right. We tweaked the technique. Added rosemary. Took it away for a few attempts and added lemon. One time we used kumquats. Next time we're going to rub the whole chicken with adobo paste, which we just made for chicken wings on the blog.

We tried several methods and tools, some more complicated than others, but nothing beats a cast-iron skillet. Danny even ordered a roasting pan after reading an article in Cook's Illustrated, but we soon ditched it in favor of Bittman's way.

For that crispier, browner chicken skin, it's important to pat the chicken dry before rubbing olive oil into it. The brine, though not mandatory, is what we always do because it results in a more plump, juicy chicken. The sugar and salt brine is something Danny didn't forget when we asked a local chef how his chicken got so crispy and delicious. Sugar, he told us.

Wine and garlic are thrown into the skillet to mix in with the chicken juices and make the most glorious sauce. It's rich and brown and when you pour it over the chicken, there's nothing left to do but pick the whole piece up with your hands. Forget the forks. Grab the napkins.

Ileana Morales is a writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend, Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, She can be reached at


Roast Chicken

After several attempts, this is the recipe that gave us a juicy and flavorful chicken every time. You can dress it up by adding rosemary along with the lemon or rubbing spices into the chicken skin.

½ cup kosher salt

½ cup brown sugar

3- or 4-pound chicken, giblets removed

Extra-virgin olive oil


1 lemon

6(ish) garlic cloves

½ cup dry white wine

To prepare the brine, place a gallon of water (or enough to submerge the chicken) in a large bowl or pot. Stir in ½ cup salt and ½ cup brown sugar until dissolved. Carefully place chicken in brine and refrigerate uncovered for 4 to 8 hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 500 degrees and place cast-iron skillet in the lower third of the oven.

Remove the chicken from the bowl and rinse with cold water briefly. Dump the brine. Place chicken on a plate and pat down thoroughly with paper towels. Get it dry! This will help it brown. Rub 3 tablespoons of olive oil all over the chicken. Rub salt and pepper onto the chicken as well. Slice lemon in half and place it in the cavity.

Carefully place the chicken breast side up in the hot skillet; you'll hear it sizzle as soon as it hits the skillet. Place the chicken in the oven. After 10 minutes, toss the garlic cloves in the skillet. After 5 minutes, when the chicken is starting to brown, add ½ cup white wine to the skillet to keep the garlic from burning.

Bring the heat down to 350 degrees. Roast until the chicken is golden brown and reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees in the breast or 160 degrees in the thigh, about 45 minutes. Remove skillet from oven and transfer chicken to a cutting board. Let rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting. Meanwhile, pour the sauce and browned bits from the skillet into a small bowl. This stuff is gold. Serve chicken with generous portions of the sauce.

Serves 4 or 5.

Source: Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Soak chicken in sugar brine to get a juicy and flavorful roast 04/02/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 10:22am]
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