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Chicken – Dry Brine/Herb/Spice Mix Under-Skin by Tim Granzeau

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 with a piping bag.

            This could be Mayonnaise, EVOO or Butter.


  1. Loosen Chicken Skin: This is suprisingly easy. The idea is to loosen the skin beginning at the head end of the bird. You will need a plastic spatula with a round handle that does not have any sharp corners or edges. You live up the skin below the wishbone and carefully slide the spatula handle under the skin and up along on side of the breast. Then move the handle in and out to loose all of the breast on that side. Shift to the second side and carefully over the top of the breast. You can also slide the handle along the thighs and even around the legs .Repeat this to loosen the skin covering the back.  Skip this if too hard.

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 but longer 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. The best procedure is to wrap the bird tightly for two days and then unwrap the bird for an over night air day in the fridge. You will want to dry the skin of the bird with paper towels and sprinkle a mix of salt and baking powder on the skin. Pat the mix into the skin and then place open in the fridge overnight.

  1. To Cook:  Preheat oven to convection roast at 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.