Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Use Feta Brine as a 1-Ingredient Grilled Chicken Marinade

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The only thing better than a good recipe? When something’s so easy that you don’t even need one. Welcome to It’s That Simple, a column where we talk you through the dishes and drinks you can make with your eyes closed.

My fridge’s cheese drawer hosts a rotating cast of characters. Perhaps there’s cheddar to satisfy a mac and cheese craving, or blue to put toward a steak salad. Maybe I couldn’t not get that mini Harbison that was on sale at the cheese counter. But a select few are constants: I always have at least a couple of balls of mozzarella on hand for our weekly pizza night and, without fail, a large tub of feta in brine.

That’s not because I can’t stop making the baked feta pasta that went viral on TikTok a few years ago. (If you must know, I made it once and moved on.) It’s because I get two ingredients from that tub: both feta and brine. How I use the cheese is rather obvious—it livens up my salads, frittatas, and sandwiches.

The brine, though, is equally beloved. Not only does it keep the cheese moist and fresh for weeks, it’s my absolute favorite marinade ingredient—especially for juicy grilled chicken. When I am done with the cheese itself, I use the brine’s salty, tangy power to make the best grilled chicken. When this marinade gets involved, even grilled chicken breasts won’t dry out.

Feta brine is a brilliant convenience. Before the cheese is submerged for storage, it’s nothing but a combination of water and salt. When feta sits in it, though, the cheese slowly contributes its flavor into the liquid. From a science-y standpoint, the most important part is that lactic acid from the feta finds its way into the brine. All acid—like lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and red wine vinegar—can tenderize meat when used in a marinade. The only problem with citrus and vinegars is that they’re a bit too strong. If meat is left to marinate with high concentrations of these acidic ingredients for longer than a few hours, it can become rubbery and tough. Lactic acid, however, is gentler. If you’ve ever marinated chicken in yogurt, you’ve already witnessed its wonders. Feta brine works similarly. But unlike yogurt, which is plain, feta brine is delightfully salty. So both the seasoning and tenderizing qualities of a good marinade are built right in, leaving you with flavorful chicken from just one single marinade ingredient, which basically comes free with your cheese.

Feta-Brine Grilled Chicken Marinade

Depending on how much chicken you’re marinating and grilling, you can easily double or halve this recipe. A standard pack of chicken at my grocery store is usually about 1½ pounds, which serves about four people, so that’s usually what I make.

You can use any cut of chicken you like, boneless or bone-in, but I generally use boneless skinless chicken breasts or chicken thighs. Chicken tenders would work too. Place 1½ pounds chicken in a bowl and pour ½ cup feta brine (a standard 8-oz. container of feta in brine will give you this and more) over it. Squish the chicken down with your hands to make sure it’s totally submerged then cover the bowl and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours. (You could also do this in a zip-top bag if you prefer.)



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