I admit it. I am obsessed by buttermilk. But why wouldn’t I be when you realise what an amazing ingredient it is. Traditionally the the liquid left behind when cream is churned into butter, it’s an astounding versatile ingredient. High in protein and low in fat and more tangy and flavoursome than whey, it has been used in cooking for centuries.
These days it is usually made from culturing milk to make a creamy liquid in the same vein as drinks such as kefir which have always been associated with good digestive health as well as a delicious flavour. A friend of mine shares by buttermilk mixed with orange juice as a hangover cure which is beyond my limits of love for buttermilk.
For some reason, buttermilk is really hard to get in England. It’s very easily available in Ireland, coming in old fashioned cartons and costing less than a pint of regular milk. It’s used by lots of people to make unleavened breads such as wheaten and soda farls which are still staples for us. It’s great in soups and dressings and I’ve always wanted to use it marinade meat properly.
And because the buttermilk gods are smiling on me, I have finally had the chance to do just that. My local shop stocks an extensive range of Polish goods and have started keeping 1 litres bottles of buttermilk or maślanka instead of having to buy tiny cartons of thick yoghurty stuff from supermarkets. This cost me 99p and an odd look from the shopkeeper when I whooped with excitement when buying it.
Still, the cultured stuff, this is thinner, tangier and much more like the stuff I’ve made myself from creating butter. I couldn’t decide whether to bathe myself or a chicken in it. The chicken won out because I’ve been dying to try brining. A technique more popular in America, using kosher or non iodised salt, it plumps up meat and makes juicier. I’m presuming osmosis comes into it somewhere, but most importantly it makes the meat tender without being salty. It’s also so easy…
Buttermilk Brined Barbecued Chicken:
- 1 whole chicken, spatchcocked
- 750ml buttermilk
- 3 tablespoons sea salt
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
- black pepper
Spatchcock your chicken by cutting it up the back with poultry shears or scissors. Push it breast side down until it lies flat to make you’ve cut it properly. This is makes it easier and safer to cook a chicken over charcoal.
Mix the buttermilk, fresh thyme, pepper, sugar and the sea salt together. Do not use table salt. You’ll make milky seawater and hate me. You can buy tubs of regular sea salt from supermarkets for less than a pound. I’m not suggesting you have to use Maldon for the brine.
Lay the chicken on a baking tray and pour half the buttermilk over it, rubbing it into the skin. Leave for an hour or so and then put the chicken into a big deep tupperware or ziplock bag and pour the rest of the brined buttermilk over the chicken. Put in the fridge and marinade for as long as possible. Overnight at minimum, but up to 48 hours is best. Mine got about 36 hours, turning or shaking every so often.
Take the chicken out of the fridge and lie flat just as you go to light the barbecue. This will give it time to come to room temperature for cooking and allow any excessive marinade to drip off. You’ll be amazed how liquidy the buttermilk has become from the salt.
Set your barbecue up for the indirect method by putting the coals on either side of a drip pan about a quarter filled with water and Guinness to help create an environment that steams, roasts and grills all at once. Place the flattened chicken over the pan and put the lid on the barbecue. After 40 minutes, check on the chicken and turn it over with long handled tongs to allow it to cook evenly.
The chicken should be cooked after another 20 minutes, so an hour in total. Check at the thickest part for the juices running clear, giving it 5 or 10 minutes more if needed. Take over the heat and rest for 10 minutes. Be warned that because the meat is so tender it may fall apart when lifting. Mine did which is why the legs seem in an improbable position.
This is the juiciest chicken I’ve ever eaten. The only saltiness came from the small amount I sprinkled on the gorgeous caramelised crisp skin and the meat was so moist, even the breast was juicy eaten cold from the fridge two days later. My buttermilk obsession has gone up another notch now. Be warned!