The Secret to Better Roast Chicken? Feta Brine

published Jul 19, 2023
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Roasted chicken in skillet with lemon halves on the side.
Credit: Stephanie Ganz

If it’s Friday night, you will almost always find a chicken roasting in my oven. A roast chicken for Shabbat is one of the most comforting weekly rituals my family shares, and it’s for that reason that I’ve spent countless hours dreaming of the best way to roast a bird so that it’s juicy and tender inside with a crispy, well-seasoned skin. If I’m going to eat a dish every week, I want it to be perfect.

I’ve tried dozens of recipes and all sorts of techniques, from spatchcocking to air-drying, but when I heard about the idea of feta-brining, I was like, LET’S GO. Our neighborhood market, Stella’s Grocery, first introduced me to the idea with their feta-brined rotisserie chicken. (Its savory perfume that floats around the neighborhood ensures that the chickens will sell out almost instantaneously.)

I found several recipes online, notably Melissa Clark’s, which was inspired by Souvla in San Francisco. In order to get to the right quantity of brine for a 4-pound chicken, Clark blends a few ounces of feta cheese with water, a departure from Souvla’s method, which relies on a stockpile of straight-up feta brine, since they’re practically swimming in it. I love Clark’s recipe, but I’ve also started saving my feta brine as I go, so I usually have a jar floating around in the back of my fridge. Each week, I use some combination of the brine I have on hand and Clark’s feta-and-water emulsion to get enough seasoned liquid (about four cups) to brine my bird.

Feta Brine Is the Key to Juicy, Perfectly Seasoned Roast Chicken

Brining a chicken is a clever technique that imparts flavor and results in astonishingly tender meat. Typically, a wet brine is salt and water — practical if not particularly flavorful. Using the liquid from a container of feta cheese to brine chicken just makes sense on several levels. One, the brine is more than just salty; it’s loaded with funky feta flavor that delivers savory satisfaction with every bite. And two, it reduces food waste because I’m not pouring that flavor-laden brine down the drain. For anyone who’s keeping score, that’s a win-win.

How to Feta Brine a Chicken

If you haven’t been saving feta brine in your fridge, don’t worry. You can create your own feta brine with a little feta cheese and water. To make the brine, blend 4 ounces of feta cheese with 4 cups of water in a blender until smooth. Place the chicken in a large plastic bag, and add the brine to the bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or, ideally, overnight.

An hour before you’re ready to roast, remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry with paper towels on a cooling rack over a sheet pan. Allow the chicken to come to room temperature for an hour. This is another step that helps the chicken cook perfectly so the meat stays tender and juicy with a nicely crisped skin.

How to Cook a Feta-Brined Chicken

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Meanwhile, season the chicken. For a truly delicious seasoning to complement the feta brine, I like to combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, the zest of 2 lemons, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (or you can use dried oregano, rosemary, or parsley, or a combination of all three) and rub the seasoned olive oil mixture all over the chicken. Then I place 2 lemon halves, 4 cloves of garlic, and a few sprigs of rosemary inside the cavity. 

Once the chicken is seasoned and stuffed, transfer it to a cast iron skillet. Roast for 50 minutes to an hour, basting once or twice, until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.

Allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes before carving, and serve with a simple salad and a side of roasted root vegetables (you can roast them right under the chicken!). Store leftover chicken in the fridge for up to 5 days, and use the carcass to make chicken stock.

Tips for Making Feta-Brined Chicken

  • Never throw out feta brine! Even after you’ve used up the block of feta, save feta brine in a jar in the fridge so you’ll always have some on hand.
  • Spatchcock the bird. For even crispier skin all over (and faster cooking!), spatchcock your chicken after brining.
  • Allow chicken to come to room temperature. Let it hang out for an hour before roasting to ensure the best texture.
  • Throw some potatoes under the chicken. Take advantage of the drippings from the chicken, and roast root vegetables under the bird.