It’s a bit of a stretch to call chicken made with olives “Peace Chicken,” but it did recently bring a bit of peace to my family life. Here’s the story:
Although I have spent years cultivating my backyard garden, honing my cooking skills, learning how to shop in my small community (grass-fed local meat from here, fresh vegetables from there, rice in bulk, milk from only one store in the community – on Thursdays only.) Yes, years have been spent on this orchestration.
All these years of refinement, patience, planning, and adaptation and I am stuck with a six-year-old who can’t stand my food – any of it. “This is the worst dinner I have ever had,” she sighed (loudly) in the kitchen one night. She has a sweet tooth of the worst kind. I would like to blame her, but the love of sugar does run in my father’s family so, as we say in Alabama, “she comes by it honest.” I have twin aunts who are as “big as a twig” put together and, as a child, I remember them eating only sweets (or at least it seemed that way).
My father and my six-year old have come up with elaborate excuses to head out to my most dreaded part of town, “The Mall,” only to return with a dozen Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. These days, they have stopped making up excuses and just go, on a regular basis. They will visit one of my twin aunts and grandmother with a dozen. Ritual.
This child of mine would eat jelly toast at every meal if I would let her. For a change of pace, she would like biscuits or pancakes. To her, the ingestion of one-quarter of a freshly picked, crisp apple is worthy of a trophy and, as far as she is concerned, that trophy should be of a bowl of ice cream (not sorbet). It’s enough to make me crazy.
I go through phases where I just tell her to go hungry. She will, after all, eat those peas if she is starving? Instead, she has a will of stone and far more patience than I ever possessed in my 50 years; she will hold out until school, or Meme and Pop’s house, or anywhere else she can eat to avoid a freshly cooked vegetable.
However, this particular chicken recipe resulted in a sweet glance and the words, “Mama, this is the best chicken I’ve ever eaten.” See what I mean? Peace Chicken. The funniest part is that the first time I made this dish, I was simply trying to clean out the refrigerator; just about everything went into the pot. It never crossed my mind that she would eat it, let alone like it. To make this recipe, I used chicken breasts since there are just the two of us and we have trouble eating a whole chicken before it goes bad. I find cut-up chicken easier to work with and easier to convince my daughter to eat. I removed the skin when cooking for the picky eater, but skin-on would be my preferred method since the chicken will be moist and tastier.
I want to say a word or two about brining the chicken. Whenever I used to see this in a recipe, I would turn the page. I was stumped by the brine. Even though my grandmothers and great aunts included this in every chicken recipe, it always seemed incredibly complicated to me. When you Google it, you get too many different recipes for brine. It can be very confusing: there are fast brines, slow brines, all sorts of complicated percentages of salt (how am I supposed to calculate 5% when I just need to cover the chicken with water?). I think that all of this is hogwash. To me, there is just one way to brine and it is best started 24 hours in advance. (This is just my take; you can comment with yours. I won’t be offended.)
For about 7 cups of water you need about 1/4 cup Kosher salt (slightly more if you like it salty). I have made a brine with 1/2 cup salt for 7 cups (supposedly about a 5% solution) and the chicken turned out VERY SALTY. I say it’s better to use less salt and brine LONGER. Makes a better chicken (and helps cultivate patience).
NATALIE’S CHICKEN BRINE
7 cups hot water
Dried herbs, like oregano, basil, or rosemary
1/4 cup Kosher salt
Olive juice (the liquid that olives are stored in) – use as much as you want, but you will need to save some for baking
2 tablespoons cracked pepper
1 washed citrus fruit (I used a leftover orange from the holidays.)
Seven cups hot water should just be enough to cover your chicken. If it is too little, double the recipe to 14 cups. (Remember that you will also need to adjust the amount of salt used if you increase the volume of the water.) Water should be just hot enough to dissolve salt.
To your hot water add 1/4 cup Kosher salt, citrus fruit (cut in half, squeeze out juice and throw rind and all into hot water), bay leaves, olive juice, cracked pepper, one handful dried herbs. Let brine cool thoroughly, add washed chicken, cover, and store in refrigerator until ready to cook – at least 12 hours, but preferably 24 or more. (Old-timey fried chicken recipes call for 24 hours brining followed by 24 hours in a buttermilk bath.)
Side note about drying herbs: I have a few herbs in my garden and as I cook during the year, I just dry what’s left over from my meals and throw them in a glass jar once they are thoroughly dried. (Herbs that aren’t completely dried when stored will mold). You can dry your leftover herbs by laying them out on a tea towel or paper napkin. I will also place mine in a still-warm oven to speed up the process. These dried herbs also make a delicious dip for bread when combined with a good olive oil, salt and cracked pepper.
Chicken, whole or cut into parts
A handful of olives and juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 Bay leaves
1 apple, cored and cut into eighths
Carrots (if you have some), or any other vegetable you might have on hand
Cracked pepper, to taste
Sprig fresh rosemary
Remove chicken from brine and discard the brine. Let the chicken drain for about an hour. Using a covered dish, place three bay leaves on bottom of dish. Add chicken, a handful of olives and a splash of the olive juice, apples, carrots or your vegetable of choice, cracked pepper, and fresh rosemary. Drizzle with the olive oil.
Cover and bake at 350° F for about 30-45 minutes (or until chicken is done), then uncover to brown. Serve with brown basmati rice and there will be peace in the family. (At least for this meal.)