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The Bird and the Brine 

A lesson in making the best chicken ever

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Photo by Malina Syvoravong

I have the best chicken recipe for you all. But before you start on this journey, you must have experienced the trial and error of making a bad chicken. Failing is part of really understanding how to make an incredible roasted chicken. Now, what do you consider a good piece of chicken? We all have varying tastes regarding chicken's moist, crunchy, salty qualities. Try to understand your own tastes. Are you that type of person that loves leftover chicken that is dry and tasteless? Adjust the recipe to cook it for 40 minutes longer and don't even bother brining. Hell, just buy some TV dinner chicken from the grocery store or head to a gas station with a hot deli. There's no need to make anything. For others who love a chicken that is tender, moist and flavorful, follow along.

The quality of the meat makes a difference. But if you don't have access or the funds to spend on pricier meat, brine or at the very least season your chicken. Actually, always do that. Even if it's just some breasts or thighs. Always. I recently went to a cookout where I had to grab a package of raw chicken out of a man's hands because he had been throwing pieces straight onto the grill without any preparation. Raw, bare chicken, straight from the plastic casing onto the smoking hot grill. A part of me died when I saw that naked piece of chicken breast flop onto the sizzling iron rods. I ran off to the kitchen with the packaged chicken so I could oil, salt and pepper it. He followed me there and had the audacity to ask, "Why are you seasoning the chicken?" I was appalled and offended but kept going as I stared him dead in the eyes. He was a parody of himself and we shall never speak of that moment again.

Back to the best chicken you will ever have. Brining the meat allows it to absorb more water through osmosis and retain that water while it's being cooked, which results in juicy tenderness. Whatever herbs, spices or extra flavorings you choose to put in your brine will permeate the meat through this process, too. If seasoning chicken is just too much for you to do, at least brine it. Don't let this step be forgotten. To keep it real, music and dancing while making your chicken will always make the experience more enjoyable. I personally love singing Drake's "Best I Ever Had" to my prepped poultry because — do I need to really say it again?

Another step that seems counterintuitive (but bear with me), is making sure to pat the chicken's skin dry. A lint-free paper towel (Bounty is my favorite brand) does well getting all the exterior liquids out. This is especially important if you are yearning for a crisp skin but, if you are planning on braising or grilling, you can skip this step. This is also important for making fried chicken but that's another article.

Make me proud the next time you make yourself a whole roast chicken or just a thigh by following at least one of these steps. It will impress your fellow poultry connoisseurs or a hot date you've met on Tinder. But if your date prefers dry chicken, ghost them.

The Best Chicken Thighs

If ghee is unavailable, you can use olive oil or make your own clarified butter. Get out your meat thermometer if you have one. Serves 2.

Ingredients:

2 chicken thighs, skin on

4 cups brining liquid (4 tablespoons salt to a quart of water)

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped

2 rosemary sprigs, leaves only

5-6 small garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup Gold Nugget ghee

The day before cooking, place the chicken in a bowl and pour in enough brining liquid so that it covers both pieces. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Place a small rack or crumpled aluminum foil onto a tray or plate. Drain the chicken, then pat it dry with a paper towel. Make sure to get under those crevices and wrinkled skin. Lay the chicken onto the rack or foil. Place this set up in an open area of the fridge where the cold air can fully circulate around the chicken. Leave the chicken in refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Take the chicken out and rub the ghee into the skin and between the skin and meat. Mix the chopped herbs and garlic, and stuff equal amounts under the skin of each thigh. Salt and pepper the outer layer.

Place the thighs uncovered in a baking pan on the center rack of the oven for 35-40 minutes. The chicken will be done when it hits 165 F, or when the juice runs clear when pierced at the thickest point.

Malina Syvoravong wishes she was Drake's other baby mama. She's a Humboldt native living in Oakland. She still has her crystal collection.

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Malina Syvoravong

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