Chicken Seeks its Own Level.
It’s hard to find anyone that doesn’t love fried chicken. But very few people like MAKING fried chicken. In our fast food driven culture, eating fried chicken usually means choosing Colonel Sanders over Popeyes, or some other local brand. We might complain that store bought isn’t as good as the one that our grandma used to make, but that is really more of a romantic tribute to an ancestor than an actual fact. My mother’s fried chicken wasn’t very good, and she would be the first to tell you that.
The store bought stuff is definitely different, because the large producers take elaborate steps to make their product retain moisture, crispness, etc. Most of those large producers use a lot of sous vide technology in their preparations, too. Of course, they prefer to protect the details as trade secrets.
Making fried chicken at home has always been difficult. Most of us remember it being either pink ON the bone, or dry AS a bone, or BOTH. Likewise, even if the chicken came out perfect, there was always lingering anxiety about pathogenic contamination of every square inch of our kitchen.
Surrender the Pink
One note on pink, “bloody” chicken. That pink is not blood. There is no blood in chicken that has been legally processed. That characteristic color is myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles–in chicken, cattle, people, we all have our own version of myoglobin. In itself, it is not toxic. But cooking temperatures cause it to change color, so our empirical intuition associates the color with the risk. Myoglobin changes color at approximately 140F/60C, so whether or not the chicken is “safe” at that moment depends on how LONG the chicken was held at that temperature.
Salmonella is the pathogen associated with undercooked chicken. But Salmonella is not pink. Salmonella is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, like most pathogens. Given the proper SV processing, the chicken could be safe and quite pink at the same time. But that does not mean I advocate serving chicken pink. Far from it. People have their expectations, so chicken should be white or dark, but never pink.
All Aboard the Bandwagon.
Sous vide really is becoming mainstream. Starbucks is advertising its use, and the proliferation of immersion circulators will probably achieve market saturation sooner rather than later. Sous Vide fried chicken will do a lot to promote the process even further. But that doesn’t mean you put some buttermilk in a bag and pull out some extra crispy a little later. This is part of the confusion about sous vide. Crockpots, microwave ovens, and other labor saving devices are typically the LAST stages in the cooking process.
Sous vide is typically one of the FIRST steps in the food preparation process. Sous Vide pasteurizes, thereby eliminating the danger of pathogens that may exist in raw proteins. After sealing and adding your project to your vessel, you have time to clean up at your leisure, to your own satisfaction. This is much better than trying to do it hurriedly while you prepare the rest of your meal.
This paradigm also provides that safe product with the opportunity to come to service more quickly once it’s done. Just for today’s example, I bought two whole chickens (it’s fine to buy them already cut), and then I made 9 packages — 4 single breasts, four legs and thighs, and all the wings in one bag. Since there’s only two of us, that’s almost a week’s worth of chicken. But I only had to sanitize my work area once, rather than every time we decide to have chicken. The temperature models are specified in each recipe, but, typically, they follow this basic guideline:
We don’t want to eat chicken every day. But, since the chicken is pasteurized via sous vide, it will keep refrigerated for a long, long time — at least a week, even two, provided the refrigerator achieves 40F/4.5C. It also freezes better than raw chicken. MUCH better. There’s no air in the bag, and hardly any external water to crystallize either. The moisture is all inside the chicken.
So, each time we decide to have chicken for dinner, we can prepare it any way we want. Cacciatore one day, Coq au Vin the next, Lemon Chicken, whatever. Ha, ha. Lemon chicken. I watch too many reruns of Raymond. Almost all chicken recipes can start with the chicken processed the same way.
Summing it up, sous vide processing makes it easier and more leisurely to keep a clean and sanitary station. It makes the finishing process faster, because the food only needs to achieve “mouth hot” temperatures, which are typically 125F/52C. Finally, the finished product is always superior, because it is never undercooked OR overcooked. Even if your fried chicken’s temperature exceeds the original processing temperature, you will see (and taste) that it still reaps the benefits of the sous vide processing–especially color and moisture content. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
- Never crowd the pan.
- As smaller pieces get brown faster, remove them to drain and add more.
- Here’s the recipe for the breading, from our sister site!
- Spaghetti squash. We’ll have to do a recipe for that, too!