I was looking for another way to cook a soup hen. We usually stew them, to end up with a very richly-flavoured soup. As many people know, they make the best chicken soup, no question about it. They require a longer cooking time than the chicken that most people are used to, because they are older birds and therefore the meat is less tender (unless slowly simmered). I came across this method of brining chicken in buttermilk (or kefir). The idea is that it tenderizes the chicken, so I decided to try it with a soup hen. It worked very well! I brined it overnight, then roasted it for a couple hours, and it turned out to be more tender than expected. It was not quite as tender as a young "meat chicken", but we liked it better this way anyways, since the meat had more texture.
I sprinkled paprika and sea salt over the chicken before I roasted it, and loved the resulting sweet and crispy skin. This method would also work for cooking chicken pieces, a whole "meat chicken", and I also know someone who swears by this method for cooking rabbit.
- Soak a soup hen (3 - 4 pounds) in buttermilk or kefir overnight or for up to 36 hours. I used a large ziploc bag because it keeps the chicken well-coated while requiring less kefir. Alternately, soak the soup hen in a large bowl or saucepan, turning it every once in a while to keep it coated with kefir.
- Set the soup hen into a roasting pan, and pour the remaining brine over it.
- Sprinkle with generous portions of paprika and sea salt. If desired, add a pinch of a dried green herb, such as sage, thyme or rosemary.
- Add about 1/2 - 1 inch of water to the pan. If using a stone pan, it works well to roast it uncovered. If using a metal pan, cover it with a lid to roast the chicken, and uncover it for the last half hour or so of cooking time (to brown and crisp the skin, if needed).
- Roast at 325 for 2.5 hours (or, another half hour for a larger soup hen).
- During the last half hour, add your choice of vegetables around the bird. In the photo, I had used thick slices of potato and sweet potato, and then added frozen peas to the mixture for the last 2 minutes in the oven.
- Remove from the oven, and let it sit (preferably covered) for a few minutes before carving it.
The water in the bottom of the pan has turned into a rich broth - use every drop! If it's too much for the current meal, save it to add to the next day's cooked veggies or meat dish.