First, the day before I plan to serve them, I start off with two 3lb bird, preferably organic, free range, but I’ll settle for a regular supermarket bird if that’s all I can find. I make two because it’s just as easy to make two as it is to make one, and there’s always good uses for the leftovers. Next, I boil up 4 cups of water in my electric teapot (though a pan on the stovetop is fine). In that, I dissolve about a cup of kosher salt, an eighth cup sugar, a tablespoon of dried rosemary, several dried juniper berries — really, any dried spices you like.
Alternately, I’ve found a really great brining salt mix sold by World Market with all of these things, plus dried apples and such. (It seems like it’s a seasonal thing, so if you can’t find it, it appears you can make it using another recipe from the Spice Hunter website, namely : 2 c coarse salt, ½ c brown sugar, 2 T black peppercorns, 2 T rosemary, 1 T thyme, 2 T rubbed sage. Mix it up in batches, and then use it, a cup at a time.)
Once you’ve melted the sugar and the salt in the hot water, cool it off with one to two times as much cold water. (Obv. the more water you add, the more diluted the brine. A diluted or concentrated brine is helpful if you want to cook your chicken more than 24 hours from when you start brining it, or a lot less. You can get by with a minimum time of 8 hours brining time if necessary, but the brine needs to be less diluted if it’s going to be worth the trouble and provide flavor. Also, I like the final chicken to be well salted, and you might prefer it less so.) You can add ice cubes to the brining solution if it’s still too warm.
Next I put each bird into a one gallon zip top bag, and ladle in the brine, covering the bird in liquid. I extract as much air from the top of each bag before sealing them up, and putting them in a cooking pan to catch any escaping liquid. Then, into the fridge, where I let them sit for about 30 hours, turning the bags every so often, to make sure no spot floats out of the liquid.
Out of the fridge, I dump out the liquid, and remove each bird, rinsing them off a bit. Then I dry them with paper towels. If I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I take the time to remove the wishbones, which will make carving the breasts much easier after cooking.
(To remove the wishbones, make a V incision right around the neck of the bird. Feel around for the bone, and then use the tip of a paring knife to remove enough meat on the bone to get a good grip with my fingers. I work them up and down the wishbone, twisting to get the little knobby part at the top free from the breast bone. Then I pull it down and out. Half the time, the bone snaps in this process, so you probably ought to make a wish before you begin.)
Next, I work over the bird, removing the wing tips, and any great globules of fat which usually end up clinging to the skin on the bottom of the bird. (Though not strictly necessary, you can add more flavor to the breast meat by chopping these knobs of fat up, and carefully slipping pieces of it between the skin and the breast meat.) Finally, I tie the bird’s legs together with some cooking twine, and I circle round the bird once from stem to stern, tucking in what remains of the wings, just to keep it compact and prevent it from flopping around. One more rubdown with a paper towel, and then a light coating of canola or olive oil to insure the skin gets crisp, though there’s usually enough fat to take care of it in any case.
I usually cook my chickens in a rotisserie oven, but you can use any method you like. I’ve found that the beer-can method of cooking a chicken works just as well in an oven as it does on an outdoor grill. In my rotisserie, it takes about an 80-90 minutes to cook birds this size. I let them sit in the rotisserie for at least 15 minutes, to let all the juices redistribute.
More later on the way I use up the leftovers.