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Recipe: Delicious Feta-Brine Grilled Chicken Marinade

The secret ingredient to this tangy chicken marinade is the brine of your feta container

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By Bon Appetit US | June 24, 2024 | Recipes

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.

This delicious Feta-Brine Grilled Chicken Marinade pairs really well with a leafy green salad in the summer, or warm roasted root vegetables in the winter. Image: Supplied.

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.

Enjoy this tangy feta-brine-marinated chicken on sandwiches too. Image: Supplied.

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 half a kilogram, 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.)

Feel free to use any cut of chicken you like, boneless or bone-in. Image: Supplied.

At its heart, this is a one-ingredient marinade. Though if you’re willing to add another one or two in, you’ll be rewarded. Try several grinds of black pepper, 1 tsp. of dried oregano or other spices, such as smoked paprika, za’atar, or sumac, or 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano, thyme, rosemary, mint, or a combination. Or stir in a spoonful of harissa or Dijon mustard, a big pinch of chile flakes like plain old red pepper or fruity Aleppo-style, a couple of grated or minced garlic cloves (or a few shakes of garlic powder), the zest of a lemon, or even a drizzle of honey or spoonful of brown sugar.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat the grill to medium-high heat and oil the grill grates well (I prefer vegetable oil over olive oil for grilling). Use tongs to lift the chicken out of the bowl, letting any excess brine drip back into the bowl. Dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper if you’d like. Place chicken over direct heat on the oiled grates. Cook chicken, flipping halfway through, until grill marks appear and the chicken is cooked through. The exact cook time will depend on your cut of chicken and its thickness, but when its internal temperature registers 165°F with an instant-read thermometer, it’s done. Let the chicken rest about 10 minutes before serving.

This recipe by Sheela Prakash originally appeared on Bon Appetit. Sheela is a food and wine writer, and the author of Salad Seasons and Mediterranean Every Day. If she had to pick one side dish to go with grilled chicken, it would be a big fattoush salad, heavy on the crunchy pita.