This blog has been mostly recipes up to this point. I feel that it is important to go deeper into the Levantine kitchen than to just give you the recipes. I will add the tag “Kitchen information” to this post, and to all such posts that give you information regarding ingredients, and preparation instructions.
This post is regarding preparation of chicken for cooking. Any Levantine cook worth her salt makes sure that whatever poultry she cooks is brined and seasoned ahead of time, in order to impart maximum flavor. (see what I did there? 😉 ) In the Levant, brining is considered part of cleaning a chicken for cooking. This is by no means limited to the Levant region, though. I grew up in the Caribbean and brining chicken is also a common practice there.
While you could take shortcuts in the preparation of chicken and cook a good meal, I find that taking the time for these extra steps elevates chicken several levels. The characteristic poultry scent is removed, the chicken is not as prone to drying out during cooking, and the seasonings are allowed to really flavor the chicken from the inside. I have also read somewhere that calcium from the bones becomes more available this way (obviously, this only counts if you use bone-in chicken).
First, chicken is brined in a solution consisting of cold water and any combination of salt, lemon juice, and/or vinegar.
Then the chicken is rinsed completely, cut up, trimmed, seasoned, and allowed to marinate.
A word about seasonings – I like to season by adding a bit of oil (about a teaspoon), a sliced or chopped onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, and spices that mirror whatever is in the dish. So, for example, a dish seasoned with cumin and allspice means that the chicken will be seasoned with some of those spices. Many times, I will pour the entire contents of the container into the pot at the beginning, including chicken, onions, marinade, etc.
If you use a fair amount of those spices to season the chicken, you could reduce the spices in the recipe, especially if you are adding marinade to the pot. Let your sense of taste be your guide in this.
I realize that there have been several articles regarding not rinsing chicken prior to cooking. Obviously, I simply cannot cook chicken without rinsing it, since I kind of HAVE to rinse it when I prepare it this way. However, even if I did not brine, it just seems wrong and unappetizing to me to not rinse off the chicken’s package juices before I cook it. You may decide differently, and that’s also perfectly okay
Note on marinating times – you could technically season and cook immediately, but I like to season ahead of time. At this point, it is just part of my daily routine. I know what I am going to cook today, so I start early and brine. Then I will marinate, and put it back in the fridge until it is time to cook. When I was working full-time, I would prepare my chicken the night before, and let marinate overnight. Even if I am short on time, ie, get home right before I have to cook – I will still do at least a short brine first, and then season, and let it marinate while I chop and slice everything else.
Place chicken in large non-reactive container (bowl, pot, tupperware – whatever is big enough).
Pour in 1 cup of white vinegar, or squeeze one lemon over chicken. If using lemon, you can rub the peel on the chicken and/or throw the peels into the brine as well.
Add 1 cup of plain white salt.
Add cold water to just cover the chicken.
Allow to soak in the brine for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Pour out brine, and rinse completely.
Cut chicken into desired pieces, and trim off any excess fat or skin.
Add seasoning items to mirror the seasonings of the dish, some sliced or chopped onion, garlic, and some mild flavored cooking oil. Stir or, using your hands, make sure all chicken gets an even coating of the seasoning ingredients.
Cover and marinate at least half an hour in the refrigerator, up to overnight. Allow to come to room temperature before cooking.