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Chicken – Dry Brine/Herb/Spice Mix Under-Skin

Chicken – Dry Brine/Herb/Spice Mix Under-Skin

Concept: The Zuni Café in San Francisco serves a wonderful roast chicken salad ($45) that utilizes a dry brining process.  The chicken is seasoned under the skin and wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated for two or three days. The salt permeates the meat expelling some moisture as it denatures proteins.  The solution is then reabsorbed distributing the flavor through the meat.

Adaptions: Distribution of salt, pepper, seasonings, aromatics and herbs under the skin offers a way to bring different flavor profiles to the chicken.

Main Ingredient: three pound very fresh chicken –  Air Chilled Chickens are best.

Note: Buy a chicken labeled fresh with no solutions or injections or water added.  (read the label carefully) You will get a better chicken in a local grocery store that is packed loosely rather than cryovac’d.  FDA Regulations allows a chicken to be held at 26 degrees for months and then sold as “fresh”. If the chicken is not clearly labeled as fresh, it has been held between 15 and 26 degrees (essentially frozen) for months and then thawed and possibly labeled as raw.  It is not fresh.

Seasonings: Kosher Salt, Pepper, Seasoned Salt, Adobo Seasoning (Penzey’s or Spice House are wonderful.) or Aleppo Pepper.  

The following seasonings will burn in a hot oven but are excellent when cooked under the skin:  Mild Cajun Seasonong, Paprika, or Pimenton.

You may also use BBQ seasoning blends.

Herbs: Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Herbes de Province, etc.

Aromatics: Shallots, Onion, Garlic, Ramps, Scallions or Citrus Zest.

Oils: You may use an oil base to spread mix evenly under the skin.

This could be Mayonnaise, EVOO or Butter.


  1. Loosen Chicken Skin:  The idea is to loosen the skin without tearing any holes.  It is best to use fingers with the nails down or a round end of a wooden spoon.  (Go slowly until you get the knack. A fresh chicken works best.) Loosen the breast skin by beginning at the head end.  By carefully sweeping your fingers (nails down) across the breast, you will loosen the skin over the breast without any tears.

Repeat this to loosen the skin covering the back.  Skip this if too hard.

There are two ways to loosen the skin around the thigh and leg.  You may go around the breast with your hand or begin at each side of the tail end.  Nails toward the flesh eliminates tears. When you develop expertise, you can loosen enough skin to pull the breast skin over the breast and pull the leg out for seasoning. 

  1. Season Under the Skin:  Use a small tablespoon to slide the seasoning mix under the breast.  When the spoon is in position, turn it upside-down to dump the seasoning.  Then, spread with you finger from the outside.

When fully seasoned, wrap the chicken tightly in a plastic bag and place on a plate in the fridge.  Allow at least 8 hours for seasoning or up to three days.

  1. To Cook:  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  (if you have a hot oven you may have to begin at 425)  Place chicken, BREAST DOWN, on a rack in a heavy pan (I use a skillet).  Cook for 30 minutes which should brown the breast skin. Check the temperature of the thickest part of the thigh; you want it above 150 degrees.

When the thigh is above 150, turn the chicken breast up and check the temp of the thickest part of the breast.  It should be around 130 degrees.

Continue cooking, checking breast temp every 15 minutes.  When the breast reaches 155 and the thigh is about 165, you are finished.

  1. Remove the chicken to a plate.  Remove all fats from the pan. If the bits in the pan are not burned, you may make a pan sauce.  If the fond is burned, toss and eat.

  1. Pan Sauce:  Too in minced shallots and sauté for 2 minutes.  Add madeira or white wine. Add chicken stock or broth.  Add cream. Whatever.

Eat and enjoy.

Options:  You may spatchcock the chicken and do it the same way.

Specific Recipe:

1/3 cup butter, oil or fat to sauté aromatics/herbs

2 1/2 Tbsp. pureed garlic, shallots or other aromatics

1 tsp. micro-planed lemon zest or orange zest

2 Tbsp. lemon juice, orange juice, or vinegar

pinch cayenne, aleppo or red pepper flakes

2 1/2 Tbsp. fresh minced herbs

salt and pepper to taste


  1. Combine fat aromatics, acid, and pepper saucepan. Bring to simmer, stirring frequently, over medium-low heat, about 3 minutes. Once simmering, add herbs and cook 30 seconds longer. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer set over small bowl, pushing on solids to extract oil. Transfer solids to small bowl and cool; set oil and solids aside.

  2. Combine 3 teaspoons kosher salt and 1/3 teaspoon pepper in small bowl. Mix with the cooled aromatic solids. 

  3. Spread salt/aromatic mixture evenly under skin over chicken breast and thighs.  Season the inside of the chicken.

  4. Refrigerate chicken 1 to 2 hours.