Salt of the earth: Yotam Ottolenghi's brine recipes (2024)

Salt's crucial role in thedevelopment of civilisation is well known: wars were fought over it and taxes levied. Roman soldiers were paid with it, and its food-preservation qualities secured nourishment for humans formillennia. Wars, revolutions andincomes aside, salt is also the way to make food taste great.

I'm not, of course, championing the hidden and unhealthily high levels of sodium in processed and ready-made food. I'm talking about lightly seasoning food to draw out and enhance its natural flavours. Compare a sliced tomato or courgette that has been seasoned and left to rest for 10 minutes with one that hasn't: the difference is immense. Salt has a strong osmotic effect on organic material, and its presence draws water across a cell's membrane. Vegetables have a very high proportion of water, so salt's impact on their flavour and texture is swift and significant.

It is this process of osmosis that makes brining such a useful cooking method. Aromatics can be added to the saline liquid – hard herbs such as rosemary, thyme and bay, and spices such as pimento and black peppercorn – and their flavour will be infused through the meat, fish or veg along with the saline exchange.

For people who think of chicken asthe meat choice of those-who-don't-really-like-meat, brining a birdwill be a revelation. Far from dehydrating the meat, as you might expect the salt to do, something elsetakes place in the process of osmosis, when the salt is flowing from the brine, that prevents this happening. To accommodate the salt, the proteins in the meat get bigger and hang together more loosely, so more, not less, water is kept in each cell. And this moisture is locked inside when the meat is exposed to heat.

This can be applied to great effect on chicken thighs or legs – fried chicken doesn't get better than this – or even on a whole bird, as Diana Henry does in her recent book Salt Sugar Smoke (Mitchell Beazley, £25). For her sweet tea-brined chicken, awhole chicken is pierced with a skewer and added to a cooled brine made with Darjeeling, soft brown sugar, salt, orange juice and zest. It'squite marvellous. Americans even brine their Thanksgiving turkeys whole before roasting them, though Idefy anyone here to find a big enough pot, let alone a place for it in the kitchen cupboard.

Brining could not be easier, but there are a few rules, particularly formeat and fish. The brine should always be allowed to cool before thechicken, pork or salmon, say, isadded, and then put in the fridge. Brine must never be reused and it is best to let meat rest for two or three hours after coming out of its brine, so the salt concentration can equalise.

The purchase of salt does not, some readers will be pleased to know, involve a pilgrimage to any specialist shops, markets or online retail sites.

Southern fried chicken

My version of this legendary dish is based on a method perfected by Michael Rhulman, whose brilliant book Rhulman's Twenty demystifies some fundamental cooking techniques. You need to start 24 hours ahead, but it's one of the most worthwhile waits I can think of. Serve with the slaw that follows. Serves six.

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, skin on, crushed
12 bay leaves
8 allspice berries
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp soft brown or caster sugar
Fine sea salt
12 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
150g plain flour
1½ tbsp freshly ground white pepper
2 tsp sweet paprika
3 tbsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 tbsp baking powder
285ml buttermilk
About 1 litre sunflower oil, for frying

Pour a litre of tap water into a large saucepan and add the onion, garlic, bay, allspice, vinegar, sugar and a tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat and set aside to cool; about an hour should do. Add the chicken thighs, making sure they are fully submerged, cover and leave in the fridge for 24 hours to marinate, stirring from time to time.

Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Rinse the chicken, discarding the brine, and pat dry very well. Put the flour, white pepper, paprika, coriander seeds, baking powder and a teaspoon of salt in a bowl and mix well. Pour the buttermilk into a separate bowl. Dip the chicken thighs one by one into the buttermilk – they need just a thin coating, so brush against the rim of the bowl to remove any excess – then coat with the flour mixture. You want an even yet thin coat.

Pour enough oil into a large sauté pan so that it rises 4cm up the sides. Place on a medium-high heat and use a thermometer to bring the oil to 170C (if you don't have a thermometer, the oil needs to keep sizzling away when you're frying the chicken, but only moderately so). Working in batches, so as not to overcrowd the pan and thus lower the temperature of the oil, gently lower the chicken thighs into the oil and cook for nine minutes, turning once. Transfer to a kitchen towel-lined plate and keep warm while you cook the rest of the chicken.

Transfer the thighs to a baking tray and finish them off in the oven for a further eight to 12 minutes, until cooked through. Leave to rest for five minutes before serving.

Grilled sweetcorn slaw

Salt of the earth: Yotam Ottolenghi's brine recipes (1)

Serves six.

100ml white wine vinegar
200ml water
Salt and black pepper
¼ white cabbage, shredded: 300g net
3 carrots, julienned
1 small red onion, peeled and thinlysliced
4 corn cobs, lightly brushed with olive oil
2 red chillies, finely chopped
20g picked coriander leaves
20g picked mint leaves
Olive oil

For the dressing
50g mayonnaise
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1½ tsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed

Put the vinegar, water and a tablespoon of salt into a small saucepan, bring up to a boil and remove from the heat.

Put the cabbage and carrot in a bowl, pour over two-thirds of the salty liquid and set aside to soften for 20 minutes. Pour the remaining liquid over the onion and, again, set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse the vegetables and onion, pat dry, put ina large bowl and set aside.

Put a ridged chargrill pan on a high heat and, when it starts to smoke, lay the corn on it. Chargrill for 10-12 minutes, turning so that all sides get some colour (this will create quite a lot of smoke). Removefrom the heat and, when cool enough to handle, use a large knife to shave off the corn in clumps and add to the salad bowl.

Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing, pour over the salad and stir gently. Add the chilli, coriander and mint, along with a grind of black pepper, give it another gentle stir and serve.

Salt of the earth: Yotam Ottolenghi's brine recipes (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Golda Nolan II

Last Updated:

Views: 6498

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (58 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Golda Nolan II

Birthday: 1998-05-14

Address: Suite 369 9754 Roberts Pines, West Benitaburgh, NM 69180-7958

Phone: +522993866487

Job: Sales Executive

Hobby: Worldbuilding, Shopping, Quilting, Cooking, Homebrewing, Leather crafting, Pet

Introduction: My name is Golda Nolan II, I am a thoughtful, clever, cute, jolly, brave, powerful, splendid person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.