Salt Sugar Smoke and truly ah-mazing Russian Caravan Tea Brined Chicken (injected awesomeness optional)


 Firstly, this book. You need it. It's by Diana Henry and it's amazing.

And so packed full of goodies, you just don't know where to start.

I was lucky enough to be given it (cheers Aunties Helen & Alice!) and within about five minutes of ripping off the paper I was hooked. When I got home I was a little bit overexcited and may have bashed out half a dozen recipes in the space of an afternoon: tackling everything from pickling sweet cherries and inky black grapes in thick spiced unctuous potions to eagerly rubbing a side of salmon with whisky and brown sugar for homemade gravlax. All worked, all are good, but this. This one with the chicken you have to try. I tweaked it a bit, using smoked tea, reducing the salt a tiny bit and adding another, more perforating side to the brining. 

Secondly, let me explain the awesomeness option. You see, this recipe is excellent and delicious from whatever end you approach it, injection or no, but- should you choose, you can increase the detectability with one of the weirdest and totally worth it pieces of kit available to cooks with the need to push the boundaries. Get ready, it’s the MEAT INJECTOR!!

Dhun, dhun, dhunnnn.

Now, the squeals of those with needle sensitivities need not drown out the natural (and mayyybe slightly morbid) fascination of the giant-sized needle and syringe contraption that I’m promoting here. The thing is so huge, anyone who has or can when called upon apply a dollop of common sense will quickly realise its just too big and cartooney for trypanophobia to really apply. Can you handle kitchen knives? And we acknowledge they carry poking risks of their own? Okay then.

You shall need...
4 tblsp or 6 teabags of Russian caravan, lapsang souchong or other smokey tea. I used Char’s Russian Caravan loose leaf tea.

250g brown sugar
80 g sea salt
Two lots of 3.5 pints water, one for the initial brewing of the brine, the other to add to it to help cover the chicken.
1 orange, juiced and zested
25g butter - I like to smash mine together with chopped herbs and garlic in a mortar and pestle.

1 Chicken or 2 pheasants

Firstly, make your brine. DON’T taste it.*                                    

Juice and zest the orange, adding them to a pot large enough to contain your chook.  You can cheat and use orange juice (1 cup) if, like me, you live for oranges and have snaffled all the real ones.

Simmer 2 cups of water and add the tea straight to the pot once it’s come off the boil (tea dosen’t need boiling water. In fact, it can make it bitter. Green and white teas especially suffer from being scorched and fight back with harsh grassy tannins. Yuck.).

Stir in the salt and sugar and poke it about till they've dissolved. Leave the tea and brine solution to sit and think about itself for around 10 min, which lets the tea fully infuse and make a nice strong brew.

*Told you.

Pour the tea brine through a strainer into the pot (to catch any leaves) and give the orange/tea/salt/sugar brine a good stir round. Add the other lot of water and set aside till completely cold. Why completely cold? We're going to be letting the raw chicken sit in the solution for a day or so and, while thus far I've not even flirted with food poisoning, I'd never advise ever putting a chicken in the fridge in a warm or hot bath. The insulation of the fridge can actually keep the water hotter for longer, increasing the likelihood of bacteria breeding all over our lovely chicken.

Now the fun bit. If you don't want to do the fun bit, then simply plop the chicken in the cold brine, cover and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.

If you want to do the fun bit:
Suck up the cold brine into the syringe, keeping an eye out for needle-clogging orange bits. Poke the needle about 1-2 cm into the breast of the chicken and press down on the plunger until all the juice is injected into the chicken. Repeat 3 more times evenly over different areas of the breast, then repeat on the thighs and legs. The chicken will puff up impressively as you inject more brine into it.

Watch out for poking right through the chicken and injecting uselessly into the empty body cavity.  Also, especially when doing the legs and thighs, keep tabs on where the needle is headed and where your other fingers are. It's too big to easily poke you like a normal hypodermic needle would, but safety first. 

Once you've finished, place the chicken into the brine and allow it to wallow, covered and turning every few hours overnight.

Three hours before roasting time, drain the chicken and pat dry before replacing into the fridge to dry even more.

Slip the butter under the skin around the breasts, using your fingers to widge around and loosen the skin first, then roast at 180*C/350*F/gas mark 4 for 20 min per 450g/1 lb. Keep an eye on the it as the sugar in the brine will cause it to brown more quickly than a normal chicken and the skin can quickly burn before the rest of the bird is cooked. Check at least once before the halfway mark and have a piece of pierced tinfoil to hand to make a little tent over the bird(s) once they've reached a nice golden brown.

Carve and serve with tasty winter salad leaves and a gravy made with sage leaves and the dark juices of the bird.

Land Cress makes a delicious addition to winter meals and it's so easy to grow! Sow in March and April for summer crops, then again in September and November for slow and steady growth overwinter.

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  1. I love Diana Henry's books so I will definitely look out for this one. The meat injector I'm not sure sure whether to love or hate - it sounds great but then I got to the bit about watching out for your fingers near the end and I started having visions of fingers plumped up with orangy brine...

  2. I'm going to try this on rabbit!


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