That’s not the most compelling title I’ve ever read, but this isn’t exactly a recipe, although it comes from a wonderful cookbook. A couple of years ago I was looking at a chicken salad recipe in Bon Appétit, Y’all, by Virginia Willis (© 2008). Having been obsessed for years with finding the best way to produce freshly cooked chicken for salads and casseroles, I was immediately taken by the unusual technique Ms. Willis outlines in a few sentences at the beginning of her recipe for Tarragon Chicken Salad. In a nutshell, it’s this, with a little adaptation:
Roasting Chicken Breasts for Salads and Casseroles
Preheat oven to 300°F. Place bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts on a rimmed cookie sheet that’s been lined in foil or parchment paper. Season chicken on both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. (Don’t salt if you’ve brined the chicken as described below.) Bake for 2 hours, until the juices run clear. (I test with a food thermometer to make sure the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. A few degrees higher doesn’t make much difference here.) Remove to a rack to cool.
Once cool enough to handle, pull meat from the bones for use in recipes requiring cooked chicken (like the Lemon-Ginger Chicken Salad in my previous post). Or, if you’re slain by the delicious smells emanating from your oven and can’t wait, simply serve up plates of the chicken breasts intact with some mashed potatoes and a green vegetable. I won’t complain if you want to mix up an envelope of instant potatoes, like Idahoan — my personal favorite. (Just don’t do it at Thanksgiving, please. That’s an occasion for mashed potatoes from scratch!)
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The beauty of this technique is that it is foolproof. Really, you can’t mess this up. It results in tender, juicy meat that doesn’t need to be coated in additional oil before cooking because the fat in the chicken skin keeps everything moist and protected. At that gentle temperature, not much is going to dry out anyway within 2 hours. I usually cook as many chicken breasts as will fit easily on my cookie sheet, because what I don’t use immediately will go into the freezer for future meals. Be sure to put the cooled chicken fat into a container in your garbage can, and not down your sink drain.
If you really want to gild this lily, then brine the chicken before you cook it. All that entails is pouring 2 quarts of cold water into a large bowl, then adding 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup salt. Stir a minute or two to dissolve. [Note: clear out space in the fridge for your bowl before you start lurching in that direction with your hands full of heavy, sloshing chicken parts and water.] Add about 4 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts to the mix, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it sit in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Don’t brine for more than an hour, or the chicken meat will start to break down. (Yuck.) Drain the brined chicken into a colander you’ve placed in the kitchen sink, and (this is VITAL), rinse all pieces thoroughly with cold water. Not rinsing will result in too much salt in the finished dish. Dry thoroughly, and proceed with the above cooking technique (but don’t salt the chicken again). That brine ratio is good for bone-in chicken. To brine boneless chicken, use 2 quarts of water, 1/4 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup salt.
I don’t happen to be roasting chicken parts at the moment, and there’s no photo of such in my camera. (Go figure.) So let’s look at another gardenia. My deck stairs are done, by the way.