serves 4 to 6


Brining chicken with salt and brown sugar then flavoring it with chilis, garlic, and orange makes for some sensational roast poultry.

Cook to Cook: Brining is almost miraculous. Soak meats, fish, or poultry in salt water and they're juicier, flavors are fuller (it's the salt, of course), and leftovers taste better. This ancient technique preserved fresh meat and fish. I believed it shaped the western world's love of salty flavors.

Three tricks are handy to know. First, don't overdo it. If 12 hours are good, trust me, 24 are not better. That's when a pickled, over-salted taste takes over. Second, brown sugar brings out deep caramelized flavors and softens the meat. You can add whatever seasonings you'd like along with the essential salt, sugar, and water.

This recipe is for two chickens, plenty of food for a party and for leftovers. If at all possible, use chickens raised on organic feed.

Working Ahead: The rhythm of this recipe is brine overnight. Before leaving for work season chickens with chili. Roast when you get home.

The Brine

  • 1 gallon (4 quarts) cold water
  • 1 cup kosher salt, or 2/3 cup sea salt (do not use iodized salt under any circumstances)
  • 1/2 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar (when I feel flush, I use the Billington dark brown molasses sugar from The Splendid Table store)
  • 2 chickens, 3 to 3 1/2 pounds each


  • 2 dried Ancho chilis, stemmed and seeded
  • Shredded zest of a large orange
  • Juice of a large orange
  • 10 large cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper


1. The night before cooking, take an 8-quart pot with a stainless steel or non-stick interior. Add the cold water and dissolve into it the salt and sugar. Tuck in the chickens so they're covered with liquid. Refrigerate 12 hours.

2. Meanwhile, soak the chilis in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain and turn into a blender with the remaining ingredients and enough water to make a thick soup. Puree. Refrigerate.

3. The next morning drain the chickens (discard the brine), stuff the chili mixture under the skin and rub it all over them. Place on a plate, lightly cover, and refrigerate until you're ready to roast.

4. To roast, preheat oven to 400. Set chickens breast-up in a shallow pan (space them well apart). Roast 1 1/4 hours, or until a thermometer tucked in the thigh reads 170. Baste with pan juices during cooking, and turn to evenly brown. (Or use a Spanek Vertical Roaster following the instructions).

5. To serve, let the birds rest 15 minutes in the turned-off oven with the door open. Cut them up, drizzle with pan juices and serve.