The popularity of deli meat can’t be explained by convenience alone. There’s something about the smooth, supple texture and salty, slightly sweet flavor that some people love. If you’re one of those people, homemade deli meat could become your new favorite snack or salad topper.
It turns out that meat of questionable origin, half a dozen unrecognizable ingredients and preservatives and loads of salt and sugar aren’t necessary to make deli meat. All that you really need is chicken (or turkey) breast, a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of pure maple syrup.
This recipe requires time (most of it hands-off) but very little effort. Cover the meat with a little syrup and salt, refrigerate 48 hours, bake low (250º F) and slow then chill before slicing. What emerges is a chicken breast transformed into a smoother, suppler version of its regular self. The meat has the same sweet and salty flavor of store-bought deli meat; it’s delicious sliced thinly for snacking or cut into thick squares for a salad.
Time in the Kitchen: 2 1/2 hours, plus 48 hours to brine
Put the syrup, salt and any seasonings that you like in a sealable plastic bag.
Add the chicken breasts and rub the syrup and salt into the meat. Release as much air as possible, seal the bag and refrigerate for 48 hours, turning the chicken breasts occasionally.
Rinse the chicken off with water then soak in a bowl of cold water for 1 hour. This removes excessive saltiness.
Preheat the oven to 250º F (120º C)
Pat the chicken dry.
Pound the breasts into thin even slabs. Roll each slab up and tie it with twine. (Pounding and rolling the meat isn’t entirely necessary but it helps the meat cook evenly and allows you to slice the meat in even rounds after it’s cooked.)
Place the rolled breasts on a parchment lined or well-oiled baking pan.
Bake for 1 hour or until the meat temperature is 165º F. (74º C)
Remove the twine and let the meat cool completely in the refrigerator before slicing.