Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Food Lab: Sous Vide Chicken Breast

Sous Vide Chicken Breast with Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette
I think there is probably no dish I find less exciting to cook than a chicken breast. Now, don't get me wrong, I really enjoy chicken itself... roast chicken, fried chicken, spatchcocked chicken, chicken in a pot, etc... but the only time I ever grab chicken breasts is when I'm going to pan roast them and then make a sauce while the meat is resting, which I don't think I've ever even bothered to blog about. For better or worse I'm a cook who gravitates towards more "aspirational" than "functional" cooking and that means that chicken breasts... which I imagine are at (or near) the top cuts of meat cooked in the United States... get the short shrift up in here.

Well (for at least this post) that's all about to change! Enter the sous vide chicken breast... which is about as functional as functional cooking can be. I mean there is really no art/craft to cooking this baby... stick it in your sous vide setup for an hour and thirty five minutes at 140°F, brown the skin for 2 minutes, and dinner is served. 140°F! you may say... that's raw chicken you'll die of salmonella! No you won't. For a more detailed explanation, see this Food Lab post, but the simple answer is that the amount of nasty bacteria killed is a matter of both temperature and time... so if you want your meat to be safe to eat at a lower temperature you just need to hold it there for longer... which is where sous vide comes in.

The recipe I used can be found here, but pretty much all of it was making the (very good) sauce for the chicken. Since the chicken doesn't exude much of any juices at 140°F (better they stay in the meat, right?) there are no pan sauces here. A salsa, chimichurri, vinaigrette, or beurre meunière is called for to make things interesting... but nothing could be simpler than making the chicken itself. I got skin-on bone-in (or "split") chicken breasts but if your butcher does skin-on boneless breasts then that is the ideal I think... not that the bone is problematic or deboning the breasts, as I did, is particularly arduous. You definitely want skin though, unless you are just going to slice up the meat and put it in a salad. It's gives you something you can crisp up to both look and taste great.

Preheat your water bath to 140°F. Then just liberally season your chicken breast with salt and pepper before placing it in a plastic bag. Evacuate the air however you are going to do that (I like these hand pump bags)... but either the fancy ways or submerging it in water as you seal it work fine. After an hour and thirty five minutes (up to ten hours - so you can put it in before you go to work) your chicken breast will look like this:

Out Of The Bag

Not terribly tasty looking, eh? That's why we brown the skin. Set a skillet to medium high with a tablespoon of vegetable oil until the oil is all shimmery, add the breast(s) skin side down and cook until the skin is golden... about 2 minutes, and voilà:

Incredibly Moist

The most juicy and perfectly cooked chicken breast you've ever made. I'll tell you that I was a little concerned that the texture would be off putting or weird in some way, but that is simply not the case. It just tastes like really juicy chicken.

Definitely recommended for anyone with a sous vide setup. Note that it's also a short enough cooking time that you could do this with beer cooler sous vide, so if you are really just looking for a recipe to determine whether the sous vide investment is worth it, then this is a good recipe to try.