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October 2, 2013

Turning Tea into Brine

Southern sweet beverage a perfect complement to chicken

Cooking has never been more creative or more fun than it is today. When it comes to combinations of ingredients and flavors, there no longer are hard and fast rules. Often, a crazy idea turns into a favorite recipe. And that’s how I came to love chicken brined in sweet tea.

I was writing my cookbook on different ways to flavor food called “Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned,” and I decided to write a whole chapter on brining. That is how much I believe in brining.

It is the perfect way to infuse both moisture and flavor into lean cuts of meat, such as pork, poultry and fish. I was creating brines that reflected flavors from all different types of cuisines and wanted to create an iconic Southern brine. It didn’t take long for sweet iced tea to come to mind. This traditional sweet beverage of the South is perfect for brining. Basically, all you have to do is add salt.

Because my favorite sweet tea is half-lemonade and half-tea, my tea brine has strong lemon undertones that make it a perfect complement to grilled chicken. I also add a touch of cinnamon to the brine to make it slightly spicier and more complex, helping it stand up to the heat and smokiness of the grill. If you don’t like cinnamon, you could substitute a teaspoon of black peppercorns.

The result is my go-to brine when grilling chicken pieces. I like to serve the sweet tea-brined chicken with classic sides, like potato salad and grilled green beans in summer, and cornbread and sweet potato mash in the fall and winter. You’ll find that it is versatile and goes with just about anything.

And don’t worry — the chicken doesn’t taste like iced tea. But it is juicy and well-seasoned. And if you like lemon chicken, like I do, grill a couple of sliced lemon halves and squirt the warm grilled juice over the chicken just before serving. Or for a tropical twist on the brine, substitute green tea for the black tea and apricot nectar for the lemonade, and you have an exotic tea brine that also works with pork.

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