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Sous Vide: Stuffed Chicken Legs/Thighs

Usually confined to festive holiday meals like Thanksgiving, stuffings can actually bring excitement to entrees that are otherwise routine.

Ingredients

Boneless chicken legs, thighs attached and skin-on, 2 each–approximately 24 oz/675 g.
Pork sausage, generic, breakfast type or even Italian sweet, 4 oz/120 g.
Carrots, 0.5 each.
Scallions, 1 each.
Cream 0.5 oz/15 ml.
Parsley, chopped, 4 tablespoons, divided in half.

Salsa/relish
Cherry tomatoes, 4 each, cut into eighths.
Onion, chopped fine, 1 oz/30 g.
Celery, finely chopped, one stalk.
Cilantro, a few leaves.
Vegetable oil, a few drops.
The juice of one lime.
Kosher salt, 1 teaspoon.
Parsley, chopped, 1 Tablespoon.

Equipment requirements

Immersion circulator, portable or stationary.
Heat rated container, minimum of 2 gallons/8 liters.
Heat rated sous vide bags.
Channel or chamber vacuum device.
Kitchenaid type mixer (optional).
Plastic wrap.
Meat mallet.
Sauce pot, minimum 2 qt/2 liter.
Kitchen strainer or colander.
Oven proof Cast iron broiler pan or
12″/300 mm oven proof skillet.
Standard kitchen oven.

Serves 2-3
Level of difficulty 3

Procedure:

Preheat the sous vide bath to
135 F/57 C

Filling

Peel a carrot and cut it in half. Set the narrow half aside. Cut the thick half into strips, approximately 1.5″/3.75 cm long. This will assure that they are visible when you slice the chicken later. Put the carrots in a heat proof bowl or dish and set aside. Cut the green onion into strips 1.5″/3.75 cm long as well. Stage into a heat proof bowl and set aside.

Bring 1 qt/1 liter water to an actual, furious boil. Pour it over the carrot strips in the one bowl and the scallions in the other. Use the strainer/colander to drain the green onions immediately, return them to the bowl and add ice/tap water to stop the cooking. Let the carrots sit in the hot water until it achieves room temperature. Drain the carrots.

Combine the sausage, carrots, scallions, half of the parsley, and the cream in a bowl. Mix well. A Kitchenaid type mixer with paddle works well for this, but it can also be done by hand or with a wooden spoon. Refrigerate until you are ready to stuff the chicken.

Salsa/relish

This is a simple but refreshing accompaniment for the already rich and hearty stuffed chicken. Using something like this as an alternative to the archetypal rice/vegetable garnish simplifies things without sacrificing the overall sophistication of the dish. Combine the ingredients on the list and toss lightly. Refrigerate.

Stuffing the chicken

Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on a thick cutting board or otherwise steady work surface that will not vibrate from the impact of the meat mallet on the chicken. A quake-proof table or counter will cut in half the time it takes to pound out the meat.

Lay the boneless legs/thighs on the sheet of plastic, skin side down. Lay another sheet of plastic wrap on top. This prevents the mallet from sticking to and damaging the meat. It also protects your walls and apron from being splattered with tiny particles of meat. Plastic wrap can be infuriating, but it is very useful.

Use the meat mallet to tap/compress and flatten the chicken. How thin? Pound the chicken as thin as possible without compromising the structural integrity of the meat itself. You will know that it is too thin because it will fall apart when you attempt to pick it up. Stop before it gets to that point!

Shaping

Remove the top layer of plastic. Sprinkle both pieces of chicken with about 0.5 teaspoons of kosher salt and a pinch of pepper. Fit one of the pieces of chicken on a plate that is small enough to fit in a vacuum bag. This is important because it makes it a lot easier to get the stuffed chicken into the bag without unwrapping the package. It also helps the parcel keep its shape.

Stage a flat layer of the sausage mixture onto that piece of chicken, leaving a 0.5″/1.5 cm border around it. Some chefs want to paint the border of the chicken with egg, but there are actually enough albumins in the chicken to help it stick together.

Place the other piece of chicken on top, arranging so that the shapes match. Stage the whole assembly into the bag, including the plate, and vacuum seal.

Process the chicken at
135 F/57 C for a minimum of 4 hours.

Note: Let sous vide work for you! It is not necessary to eat at the exact the moment that the chicken becomes “done.” Once the four hours has elapsed, you can lower the temperature in the bath to 130 F/54 C and hold the chicken there for at least another four hours without affecting the quality or safety of the chicken in any detectable way. You can also shock the sealed package in iced water until it achieves 70 F/21 C, refrigerate at 40 F/4 C and finish it at a later date. I will explain this in greater detail as we proceed.

Searing

Preheat your kitchen oven to 450 F/232 C. Turn the hood fan on “high.” I recommend opening a draft window in the kitchen and elsewhere in the house if possible. It is better to do this in advance instead of groping for the latch after your kitchen has filled with smoke. Little things. Put the cast iron grill pan or skillet in the oven on a low or middle rack to heat as well. Trust me.

After removing the chicken from the sealed pouch, it will look like this. If you look closely, you can see a little filling “peeking out” from the chicken–this is the result of the pressure exerted by the vacuum. Some practitioners see this and fear that the package will leak. This is what we call a common misconception. It will not leak–the vacuum has removed all excess air, so there is no outward pressure.

If you turn the stuffed chicken upside down, you will see more of the filling peaking out. Again, this makes some people anxious that the whole project will fall apart. It won’t, as we will see.

Once the oven has fully preheated, use a dry towel or hot pad to CAREFULLY remove the pan and set on top of the stove. Be careful–it is REALLY hot. Dip a paper towel in oil (or use cooking spray/PAM) and lightly coat the surface of the pan. Put the chicken in the pan, flat side (plate side) down. Use a dry towel or hot pad to return the pan to the oven.

Turn the oven itself OFF and turn on the BROILER function. If possible, set it at 450 F/232 C. If your oven does not have a convenient broiler function, just leave the oven on. Assuming the broiler function exists, what is MOST important is that the pan sits on a rack in the lower/middle part of the oven and at least 8’/20 cm from the broiler element.

This step should take approximately 15 minutes, depending on the efficiency of your stove and how often you open the door to check its progress. You are looking for a particular COLOR. If done properly, the heat on the bottom of the pan will be high enough for the chicken to achieve the same color on the bottom as on the top.

There is no need to use a probe thermometer to check the internal temperature of the chicken because it was already safely warm when it went in the oven.

Note: If you chose to shock the chicken cold with the intention of serving it at a later date, the retherming process is the same–it will just take longer. For best results, you should use a probe thermometer to confirm that the internal temperature achieves at least 140 F/60 C–this should take approximately one half hour.

Once the desired color is achieved, put the chicken back in the oven for another five minutes. This may sound like a joke, but the fact is most people are anxious to complete this step and tend to be a little hasty. Assuming that the oven is on the broiler function, you can stand there and watch the chicken finish browning. I strongly recommend against multitasking at this point.

Safety first

Use a dry towel or hot pad to remove the pan from the oven. Leave the towel resting on the handle of the pan to remind you not to touch the bare metal. This can cause a serious and very inconvenient burn. I speak from experience.

Needless to say, the chicken is extremely hot at this point. Attempting to carve the stuffed chicken now could nullify all the effort you have put into your project so far. Relax.

This recipe makes an amount that is bountiful enough to serve family style on a large platter with the relish as decoration, a baguette and, of course, chopped parsley on top.

Likewise, you can create a splash of color and some altitude if you should decide to plate the dish individually.

The oven/broiler method creates that desirably crisp skin on the top and the bottom of the chicken.   

Visit us again soon to see a similar treatment of stuffed chicken breasts!

Norm

Coming soon!

About

Conventional bread based stuffings fell out of favor in the 1970's as carbo-limited diets became popularized. Scientific study also confirmed that toxic pathogens present in the over-sized Thanksgiving turkey could migrate into the sponge-like stuffing during cooking. Because of its size, the geometric center of the gigantic Felliniesque package was unlikely to achieve temperatures high enough to disable the bacteria.

Fortunately, sous vide pasteurization enables us to assure food safety as long as precise time/temperature standards are met. This gives us the opportunity to explore the aesthetic benefits offered by bundling different flavors and textures into one all-inclusive parcel.

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