It is freezing in Boston - it's been freezing for a few weeks now - and grilling outdoors is an option that we won't begin exercising until next month. (Looking forward to GRILL SHOPPING! leave your suggestions in comments!) So, we choose to do the next-best thing when craving the flavor of grilled chicken but stuck inside on a cold New England evening - use the broiler!
In order to infuse our chicken legs (1 pkg bone-in thighs [about 4 big ones] and 1 pkg wings [about 6]) with the most flavor, we like to brine them when we are going to broil them over (under!) the open flame of the broiler... Yes, we learned it by watching you, Alton.
Because we are using chicken pieces, brining is a much less time-consuming endeavor. Only 2 hours in the cool brine is enough - indeed, more than that is too much - to really infuse the flavors that are in the brine into our chicken. A whole, uncut chicken needs much longer to brine effectively. You see, the salt content of the water is higher than that of the salt content of the water in the chicken, so (the laws of chemistry state that) the higher salinity water wants to move into and take up residence in areas where the salinity is of lower concentration - like in the chicken. And, whatever other flavors that have been included in that high-salinity water will go along for the ride. Or something like that...
We bring 4 cups of water close to a boil and mix them with 3/4cup kosher salt and 1/2cup granulated sugar - stirring that mixture until the sugar and salt are dissolved. We add that water to a big glass bowl and add another 4 cups of cold water to fill out the full amount of H20 needed. The original 4 cups of hot water is to make sure the sugar and salt get completely dissolved - not easy in cold water.
This time we decided to add to this basic brine some dried crushed bay leaves, dried thyme, and a handful of fennel seeds. We also threw in a tbls or two of soy sauce and just a wee dash of liquid smoke - for that smokey grilly flavor! Have to let that luke-warm solution cool, so cover with plastic and let it sit in the freezer until about 2 hours before you are ready to being the "grilling" of your chicken. When you reach T-minus 2 hours, lay the chicken pieces in the brine and weigh down with a plate so all the chicken is submerged, re-cover with plastic and set in fridge.
When we're ready to go, put the oven broiler on high and let the oven heat. Take out the chicken, rinse each piece well and pat dry with a paper towel. Next, we seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder and paprika on both sides, then placed the chicken on a broiler pan and brushed the top/skin with melted butter.
The pan with the chicken can go on the top rack right up under the broiler and the potatoes (we used our standard sweet potato recipe - peeled and cubed, drizzled with olive oil, and dusted with salt, pepper, and garlic powder) can go on the bottom rack to start cooking. Just monitor the chicken starts to brown and when you've reached a nice browned/charry skin surface, switch the oven to bake mode (we had it at 385 degrees) and let the chicken and potatoes finish by roasting.
We par-boiled the broccoli rabe to try to eliminate some of the inherent bitterness - about three minutes, and then drained very well. Then, with about 5 minutes to go on the chicken and potatoes, we sautéed the broccoli rabe in olive oil, garlic, and some sliced deli ham (because we didn't have bacon or sausage or pancetta - all better options!)...
Served all of this up with a little beer for one of us, glass of cabernet for the other. Let us give scores for this one, shall we?
* Chicken: 7 out of 10 - the brining worked great, there was flavor infused throughout the meat of the chicken that tasted of the fennel and thyme and smoke. However! All that brining was close to enough seasoning, we ended up putting too much on the outside, as well, and kind of over-seasoning. The butter ended up burning the skin. Buttering the skin of chicken works great when roasting (indirect heat) but not for broiling - you get charred skin! Very tender and flavorful meat underneath the over-seasoned/burned surface, however.
* Broccoli Rabe: 8 out of 10 - very tasty green veggie alternative. Bacon woulda really added the extra flavor that was needed. Very little bitterness...
* Potatoes: 8 out of 10 - very good, as usual, nice balance with the sweet of the potatoes and the broccoli rabe's more bitter, earthy texture. Cooked two minutes too long this time.