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Dry Brined Chicken with Tzaziki and Cherry Tomato Salad

It’s that point in summer where no one wants to cook; the temps have not dipped below 90 degrees in 6 weeks or so and we’re all done with it, (insert teenage-inspired eye roll) but we also all know it’s going to last for another 3 months.

Now is the time when we all want to have the oven on as little as possible.

If you are on your own, maybe you will just eat a salad or snack your way through the fridge, but if you have a family depending on you and they are expecting a little more for dinner, the grill is your best kitchen tool and this chicken recipe is going to be your new go-to for the rest of the summer.

Why is this particular recipe unique?

I mean who hasn’t grilled a chicken breast, right?

While it is probably true that most people have grilled chicken before, the real question is have you grilled chicken – particularly boneless, skinless chicken - that was tender and juicy?

It takes a bit more to achieve this end result than it does with a well-marbled rib-eye.

The typical answer for the dry chicken dilemma is to drop the chicken in a marinade and let it sit for awhile. I know that most of middle America’s go-to is a bottle of Italian dressing.

Knowing bottled dressing contains lots of sugar and unpronounceable ingredients, however, I started making my own marinades a very long time ago.

Marinades, I discovered, can be time consuming to put together, especially in comparison to a bottled dressing plus the whole process is a little messy, so I have come up with a different way of making juicy chicken.

Dry brining!

No more messy marinades, I simply use a spice blend with salt and then rub the chicken down and let it sit in the fridge for anywhere from 2-24 hours.

Dry brining is my choice now for flavoring meats instead of marinades. You can do this with skin-on poultry (whole chicken, chicken thighs, drumsticks, etc.), as I do with my Thanksgiving turkey.

Not only do I end up with juicy and delicious meat, the dry brining technique combined with the bird sitting in the fridge uncovered creates crispy, flavorful skin as well.

With large cuts of red meat, such as chuck roast or pork butt, you can dry-rub it before roasting, smoking or cooking in slow cooker to allow all the flavors and aroma to penetrate every fiber of the meat.

To achieve the best results with dry brining, you want the chicken (or other meat) to have lots of time hanging out with the dry rub. The longer it sits, the more it penetrates, so you can rub the chicken down the night before (or even while it’s still frozen and it will be flavored as it thaws) and throw it on the grill while kids are playing or you are floating in the pool.

I know it seems odd that this works as well as a marinade.

Without getting too science-y, salt brings out the moisture in meat and if you let it sit for awhile, the meat will reabsorb the moisture, tenderizing the protein and making the finished product juicier. (Want to know more of the science, go here.)

If you are dry brining poultry with skin, particularly, you will want it to sit long enough that the skin has dried out or you will have flabby skin instead of crispy skin. But in general you want to wait until you no longer see liquid around the meat as this will mean the meat has absorbed it all.

The beauty of dry rub versus marinades is I can make up dry rubs in bulk and they can be stored in the pantry. If you’re not much into DIY-ing, then Rock members are lucky to have access to Stevens Family Farms Seasoning Blends. These blends are made with garlic and onion grown on their farms and everything else is organically grown spices from carefully sourced providers.

If you want to try your hand at making a rub, I will include the one I am using right now since hot summer temps and the produce available remind me of the Mediterranean flavors of Greece and the Middle East.

My blend has salt in it, so you will use 1-2 tsp per pound depending on whether the salt you use is very finely ground or coarse, as in kosher salt sized granules not the very coarse salt that goes in a grinder. (Tip: you will use more if it is the kosher salt size)

If you are using a salt-free blend, such as the Stevens Family blends, use ½ teaspoon of coarsely ground sea salt per pound (1/4 teaspoon if it is very finely ground) of meat to 2 teaspoons of the spice blend. You can blend the salt with the herbs and spices or apply the salt then the spices. I am going with the easiest version of blending it all together.

 

Dry Brined Chicken with Tzaziki and Cherry Tomato Salad

 

The zucchini you see in the photo was simply grilled and what I used to make a complete meal.

Feel free to sub in whatever vegetables your family enjoys or just serve the chicken with tzatziki and cherry tomato salad along with a little Unrefined bakery bread or Village Bakery sourdough that is toasted and drizzled with olive oil.

 

Chicken

2 lb chicken breast, pounded if necessary to even thickness

4 tsp Mediterranean Rub, recipe follows, or dry rub of choice (or 1 tsp coarse sea salt with 4 tsp of your chosen salt-free spice blend)

 

Tzaziki
1 cup cucumbers, peeled and seeded, cut into ¼” cubes or shredded (if they are pickling cucumbers, peeling and seeding may not be necessary)
½ tsp Himalayan pink salt
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 tsp each dried dill and oregano
½ tsp minced garlic
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste

 

Cherry Tomato Salad
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved and quartered
1 tsp red wine vinegar, lemon juice or sherry vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Himalayan pink salt
½ tsp black pepper
  

1.  At least 2 hours before grilling or, preferably up to 24 hours before, coat chicken with dry rub. Place on a large plate or platter and set in refrigerator until ready to grill Remove from fridge and let stand at room temp for 30 minutes before grilling.

2.  Mix cucumbers with salt and let stand in a strainer over a bowl or in the sink for 30 minutes to remove excess moisture from cucumbers. (You can skip this, but tzatziki will be watery.)

 

3.  Using a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, dry off cucumbers to remove any clinging moisture.

4.  Mix the salted and drained cucumbers with the remaining tzatziki ingredients and place in fridge to chill. (Can be made in advance and kept for 2-3 days.

 

5.  Mix the ingredients for the cherry tomato salad together and let stand at room temp

 

6.  Heat grill to high and oil the grates

7.  Grill chicken on each side for 5-7 minutes or until the chicken registers 155 on an instant read thermometer. Remove and cover with foil to retain heat while it is resting.

8.  Slice the chicken

9.  Spread a little tzatziki on each plate and top with chicken then spoon the tomatoes and juices on top.

 

Mediterranean Rub

2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp cayenne pepper, optional
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp cinnamon
1 ¼ tsps Himalayan pink salt, coarsely ground or 3/4 tsp very finely ground

 

Mix all ingredients together and store in a small spice tin or glass jar.

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