Chicken. A most versatile bird in the hands of all. From the most adept of cooks to the most amateur food preparer, it is a staple in many kitchens. The white meat of the breast runs about 190 calories per quarter pound and is great source of protein and vitamin B6 (which among other things, helps metabolize macronutrients). Meat of the bird Gallus gallus domesticus (chicken) can be prepared many ways, satisfying even the pickiest of palates.
Near universal popularity aside, when talking shop about cooking under vacuum there are a select few sous-vider’s that seem mildly hesitant about cooking chicken sous-vide. The most common hangup about chicken sous-vide seems to be rooted in a rubbery texture outcome. I personally haven’t encountered that issue but can imagine it turning me off to cooking chicken with a water bath. Most people I’ve talked to about cooking chicken using an immersion circulator/cooker are majorly in favor of it. Theres good rason for that- you can do some amazing things with chicken using sous-vide.
Now, chicken is historically an overcooked meat- it’s no secret. Many home cooks prefer to work on the ‘safe side’ and cook chicken well past the done mark to avoid risking some sort of pathogenic issue from undercooking the white meat- think salmonella. Herein lies the beauty of sous-vide!
Sous-vide chicken – Don’t overcook the bird in the name of food safety
As we know, sous-vide gives us the gift of consistent precision. It eliminates human error in bringing meats to specific and safe internal temperatures. With sous-vide we’re generally doing one of two things. The first being we are cooking at a higher temperature (150-165°F) to quickly bring the internal temperature to a safe point for consumption. Secondly, we are cooking slightly below that (135-145°F, enough to kill the microbugs) and finishing with a high heat cook (frying, baking, searing).
I like to cook sous-vide whenever possible. Grabbing a couple chicken breasts from the butcher or local super market and quickly seasoning them with an endless combination of spice rack herbs is so easy. Go ahead, grab a skinless chicken breast or two and season with some salt and pepper, garlic powder and thyme. Bag it and seal it, and drop in a 145°F water bath for 90 minutes. Remove and pan sear in hot butter ’til each side has browned a little. If so desired, add a little more salt and pepper or herb seasonings before the sear. Easy as that.
Overcooking is Overkill
When cooking chicken, the bottom line is we want to cook at a minimum temperature of 130°F for an hour per inch of thickness at the thickest point. 130°F is the point at which foodborne bacteria such as salmonella or campylobacter cease to survive and reproduce. The nice thing about sous-vide is you can still cook at 145-165°F and have succulent and tender meat.
Overcooking the meat with high temperatures for long times in effort to kill the bacteria in the food. It’s an all too common misaction made by home chefs. The USDA recommends bringing poultry to an internal temperature of 165°F to safely consume. As most experienced sous-viders probably recognize, many chicken recipes call for temperatures well below that. In fact, most recipes in water bath cooking call for temps between 140-150°F. Cooking for 1-2 hours at these temps kill pathogens and leave the meat cooked to tender and juicy perfection.
Give it a Try
Since so many people already likely incorporate some chicken into their home cooking, I’m hoping that as a user of the sous-vide method you won’t leave it out of your home chef operations. I find it hard to replicate the quality and tenderness of a sous-vide cooked bird with any other methods. With such an array of cuisine options and seasonings and marinades for chicken, it really should probably be done more often. I would imagine on the meat front that most sous-vide work is done on a red meat, but lets not forget about americas favorite food with wings!