Big Little Recipes

Making Chicken for Dinner? Brine It in Olive Juice.

November 24, 2020

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. This week, we’re wet-brining without the fuss.

By this time each year, you’ve probably heard the word brine in relation to turkey many, many, many times.

So I don’t need to tell you that brining is just another way of saying: seasoning in advance. That this yields more flavorful, moist, tender meat. That you could dry-brine (salt and done) or wet-brine (submerge in a salty liquid). That, more often than not, a laundry list of other ingredients get involved in the name of flavor!, like peppercorns and citrus peels and bay leaves.

We know all this. Just as we know that this Thanksgiving won’t be like other Thanksgivings. And many of us aren’t roasting the usual 18-pounder because our gatherings won’t involve the entire family, but just a few people or two or one.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Brine chicken for 3 or 4 hours. Can substitute Chinese 5 spice for the green herbs and it gets an Asian feel. But, I am definitely trying this olive based brine!”
— Nan G.

Which is why we’re not talking about turkey. We’re not breaking out my parents’ infamous turkey-brining bucket—I suspect it was purchased from Staples and intended to be a file box—that lives in the basement, waiting for its shining moment every November. We’re not carefully measuring water and weighing salt and unloading the entire spice cabinet.

Photo by James Ransom Prop Stylist: Gerri Williams Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.

Instead, we’re grabbing some skin-on, bone-in, easy-to-please chicken pieces—and opening a jar of olives.

Like sauerkraut, kimchi, dill pickles, and feta, olives come swimming in their own brine. As with the brine you’d carefully mix up for a holiday turkey, it’s super salty and super flavorful. Perhaps, in the past, after the olives were snacked on and long gone, you poured their liquid down the drain. But next time? Make this Big Little Recipe instead.

Wet brines can start with a slew of liquids. Traditionally water. But why not gin? Or coffee? Or pickle liquid? Or feta brine? Or buttermilk?

The benefits here are huge: First, it’s easier. Instead of combining this spice and that herb with hot water and waiting for it to cool, you can rely on an ingredient that’s already fully formed, and likely already in your fridge. Second, it’s flavorful to the nines. Because when you soak a turkey in gin, you capture all those boozy botanicals. And when you soak a chicken in coffee, you perk it up with bitterness and depth. Likewise, olive brine is salty, sure, but it’s also savory and funky and meaty in its own umami way.

We’re using the olives themselves, too. Tossed into the skillet with the chicken pieces, these sizzle in schmaltz, becoming crackly-fried outside, buttery-tender inside. I like purchasing mixed olives, so you get even more flavors and textures and colors, but straight-up kalamatas work great as well.

Throw in some garlicky croutons and a bouquet’s worth of parsley and you have a one-skillet dinner—or Thanksgiving for two, no brining bucket needed.

What's your go-to wet brine for chicken? Let us know in the comments!
Order Now

The Dynamite Chicken cookbook is here! Get ready for 60 brand-new ways to love your favorite bird. Inside this clever collection by Food52 and chef Tyler Kord, you'll find everything from lightning-quick weeknight dinners to the coziest of comfort foods.

Order Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Janet Cooper
    Janet Cooper
  • ICanBurnWater
  • IWearTheHat
  • Bonnie
  • Nan G
    Nan G
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Janet C. December 9, 2020
Absolutely wonderful and special! My husband and I loved it! Even the leftovers were great! Can't wait to make it again! Thank you so much! Your instructions were great as well!
Emma L. December 10, 2020
Thanks Janet—so happy to hear it!
ICanBurnWater December 8, 2020
Wow. What a great pantry cleaner! And yet another way to utilize thighs. Thanks so much Emma, they turned out GREAT; and I just realized you also wrote that fire recipe for banana bread. A thousand thanks for that one.
Emma L. December 10, 2020
So glad you enjoyed the chicken—and banana bread too!
IWearTheHat November 26, 2020
Your cooking video was honest and funny; you didn't edit everything to make it "perfect" so it's very relatable (broken container lid, dropped olive; we've all been there). I'm looking forward to trying this dish and to seeing more cooking from you.
Emma L. November 28, 2020
So kind of you to say—thank you!
Bonnie November 24, 2020
I don’t care for dark meat. Will try it with boneless skin in chicken breasts and see how it does. Any suggestions?
Emma L. November 25, 2020
Hi Bonnie! You can definitely apply this brining method to another chicken cut. Just adjust the cook time accordingly.
Bonnie November 25, 2020
Thanks Emma! It sounds SO good. Just love your Big, Little Recipes. I’ve loved every one that I’ve tried. ❤️
Emma L. November 25, 2020
Thank you so much, Bonnie! That makes me so happy to hear <3
Nan G. November 24, 2020
My "go to" brine is based on brewed tea.
I usually use Earl Grey but have also used Constant Comment.
Added to the cooled down tea is an equal amount sugar and sea salt.
Then I add bay leaf, garlic, thin-sliced onion, thyme, rosemary, parsley and a few peppercorns.
Brine chicken for 3 or 4 hours.
Can substitute Chinese 5 spice for the green herbs and it gets an Asian feel.

But, I am definitely trying this olive based brine!
Emma L. November 25, 2020
Yum, earl gray tea sounds delicious!
Sohail W. November 24, 2020
Wow - this sounds absolutely tantalizing! The best advice was 'not to move the chicken' so that it makes maximum contact with the pan for the crispiest skin. I wonder how this recipe would adapt to a spatchcocked chicken - going to try it!
Emma L. November 25, 2020
Yay hope you enjoy!