Ok, so none of that actually happened. But I did get my hands on some Bhakti Chai concentrate recently and, always up for a challenge, I set out with a savory idea in mind and compiled my own Chopped basket of sorts. Several jars of concentrate, assorted whole spices, and half a day later, I came up with a dish that would have made even Scott Conant swoon.
As my husband remarked tasting one of Bhakti's ready to drinks: "That's got a kick to it!" (Imagine that sentence with a light Tennessee drawl.) It really does though. So ginger-forward that's it's actually (deliciously and refreshingly) spicy. Now don't get me wrong: I'm a coffee girl through and through, but I might just swap out my daily cup (or three) for a Bhakti—at least every once in a while.
So why a brine? As a foodie and an amateur cook, the novelty and uniqueness of this off-the-wall cooking method is very attractive. The first time I heard about brining was from my Brooklynite, foodie uncle Hank whom I can recall brining chicken thighs in a plastic bucket before charring them on a grill. The past two Thanksgivings, I've enjoyed chai-brined turkey, which has effectively ruined me for other turkey cooking methods. If you're not familiar with the brining method, here's a short introduction.
The time length for brining is also not set. The longer you brine a piece of meat, the more flavor and tenderness you're going to get. Separate pieces of meat—pork chops, steaks, etc.—may take less time, but with a whole chicken like I used, you're going to want the bird to soak for at least 12 hours. I would imagine turkeys take even longer and the brining vessel would need to be quite large. Using an approximately 4-pound chicken, I was able to do most of the brining overnight, and the chicken fit perfectly into my large stockpot.
After finishing this recipe, I was struck with how easy it was! The actual hands-on prep time involved is under two hours, and the rest of the time involved requires very little monitoring. I've recently fallen in love with low-maintenance, slow food cooking methods where all you need to do is set in motion some magical cooking chemistry and then reap the rewards when it's done. Braising, caramelizing and brining all fall into this category. They're low in effort but delicious and impressive. So without further verbiage from me, here's my fail-proof recipe for tender Bhakti-brained chicken.
1 quart original Bhakti chai concentrate + 1 cup unsweetened Bhakti chai concentrate
2 12-oz. pear ciders (alcoholic)
2 c. water
3 cinnamon sticks
Several small lumps of fresh ginger, peeled
Peppercorns to taste – I used about 2 teaspoons
1/3 c. each kosher salt and white granulated sugar
1 4-5 lb. chicken, giblet package and kidneys removed
Roughly 15 to 16 hours before you know you'll be craving delicious Bhakti chai chicken, start the brining process. In a stock pot large enough to hold the whole chicken, combine the Bhakti concentrate and water as well as the cinnamon sticks, ginger, peppercorns, kosher salt and pepper.
Stir occasionally over medium heat until all the salt and sugar dissolve. Add the remaining liquid, stir to combine, and cool to about 40-45 degrees. Adding the rest of the cold liquid later in the process helps to speed up the cooling. I put my pan in the freezer for roughly an hour to bring it down to temperature.
When the brining liquid is chilled, remove from the freezer and gently place the chicken in with the liquid, making sure to remove any giblet packages or internal organs from inside the bird. (There was a kidney in mine! One, lone kidney!) With the size of your stock pot and the size of the chicken, one should fit snugly inside the other. It's ok if a bit of the bird is sticking out of the water. Just make sure to flip it about halfway through the brining process.
And now? You stick the chicken and brining liquid back in the fridge and wait! The longer the better, but 12 hours should do it. Just before the 12 hours is up, preheat your often to 375 and coat the bottom of a large roasting pan with a light flavored oil (I used sunflower seed).
Next, remove the chicken from the brining liquid—you'll notice that the skin has taken on a golden tinge from the tea—and pat it dry with paper towels before placing it in the pan and massaging it all over, inside and out, with the oil. I can't stress how important drying the chicken is. It might be slightly more work than throwing the chicken straight from the brining liquid into the pan, but if you want a crisp, delicious, golden skin, it's an absolute must.
Roast the chicken for 1.5 hours before checking for doneness. The chicken may need another 15-30 minutes or so, depending on how close to 4 or 5 pounds your chicken is.
While your chicken is roasting is the perfect time to make a batch of...
Quick "Pickled" Bhakti Carrots
½ c. decaf Bhakti Chai bottled drink
½ c. light-flavored oil – sunflower seed
¼ c. rice vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 c. julienned baby carrots
Mix all ingredients but the baby carrots into a small saucepan. Taste and adjust the vinegar/oil level to your liking. Bring the mixture to a simmer (be careful, it tends to boil over) while you julienne (read: slice thinly lengthwise) the carrots. Add the carrots to your vinegar/oil/chai mixture (note, I used " " in the title because this is not your typical pickling liquid; It's more of a vinaigrette) and simmer for 2 minutes. Transfer carrots and liquid to a heat-proof bowl and refrigerate until chilled.
Serve alongside chicken and arugula dressed with pickling liquid.