Let’s talk about taking risks for a second.
After university, my parents sent me on a trip to Australia, by myself, as a graduation present. I travelled for 24 hours to Brisbane from Toronto, not speaking to anyone and with no plans as to where I was going to stay or go beyond my first 24 hours in the country.
On my first day in Brisbane, I called my parents for the first time since I had arrived.
“You can come home now,” said my dad, meaning every word of it. “you don’t have to prove anything. If you don’t want to be there, just get on a plane and come home. We won’t be mad at all.”
Of course I wasn’t going to go home 6 hours after I had arrived. But what my dad meant was, it’s okay to make mistakes. If I decided to cut bait and return home after flying for 24 hours and spending $3500 on a plane ticket, my parents wouldn’t be upset at me. This is how I was raised, and my dad said it often enough to me: there are no mistakes in life, because you learn from every ‘mistake’ you make. Give yourself permission to fail. It’s okay.
It’s with this attitude that I approach most things in life, including cooking. If I don’t take risks, or if I’m afraid to make a mistake, I will never develop any great recipes. And I’m not down with using other peoples’ ideas, at least not all the time. So, it was with this spirit that I developed this tea-brined chicken recipe.
If you’ve ever had a brined chicken, you’ll know that brining yields a crazy delicious, succulent bird. It takes a while, but if you’ve got 24 hours, I would highly recommend it.
Tea is a hot item right now, with good reason. It has tons of antioxidants called polyphenols, which among other things, may help lower cholesterol. It also tastes darn good!
I am not sure how I came up with the idea of brining chicken in tea, but all I know is that it came to me and I wanted to see if I could make it work. I used lapsang souchong tea for this recipe, which is a tea that’s dried over pine embers. This processing makes it smell and taste smoky, like a pine and oak wood fire. You’ve never smelled or tasted a tea like this one.
I headed over to The Tea Emporium on Eglinton Ave. in Toronto to get the tea, since I knew they’d have it. They were more than happy to help me out, and soon I was holding a big bag of smoky tea leaves.
I threw what I thought would go well with the tea into the brine, and soon I had my first chicken ready to go. I was a bit nervous, but the results were amazing; while the chicken was cooking, the entire house smelled like smoked turkey or ham. When I took it out of the oven, the chicken had a dark-brown lacquered, crispy skin that was absolutely show-stopping. It looked like Peking duck skin but without the layer of fat underneath. And the taste was out of this world.
Now, don’t expect the chicken to taste like ‘tea’ – this isn’t your garden-variety black tea you’re brining it in. The meat will be smoky-tasting, as well as incredibly juicy and aromatic.
The risk paid off, as it usually does. —Abby Langer
- Serves 4
Lapsang Souchong Tea Leaves
smashed garlic cloves (peel and smash with the side of a knife)
- Combine all the ingredients, except for the chicken, in a large pot. Bring to a boil.
- Once the mixture boils, let it cool completely. This is your brine.