Sunday, 13 April 2014

Sous Vide Chicken (with Thermomix method)

If you've never eaten chicken breast cooked sous vide, then this will be a complete revelation.

This may even 'spoil' you for eating chicken breasts cooked by other people, or at restaurants and pubs (unless they've cooked them perfectly, of course!), so be warned, you can't un-taste this! It is quite simply the most perfectly moist and tender chicken breast you will ever eat.

Sous Vide Chicken

And there are really only four things you need to do, to get perfectly cooked chicken (oh, there's an optional extra too, but I'll leave that one until the end!).

Firstly: 'Bag it up'.  Preferably using a vacuum food bag sealer, but you can use re-sealable bags and the water displacement method (see below). You don't need to put anything else in the bag, but a boneless, skinless chicken breast. If you want to serve it with crispy chicken skin, I'd advise removing it first, and cooking it completely separately before serving. Don't add salt, as it draws out moisture (but you can brine it as an optional extra, see below), and definitely not any kind of alcohol as it just doesn't work and will not taste right. You can put aromatics in there, such as fresh herbs, and spices, and you can put unsalted butter, or oil in there (be careful the oil doesn't get sucked out if you do and you're using a vacuum sealer - having oil frozen in ice-cube trays is a good way to get around this!). I use an Andrew James vacuum food sealer machine the same as this one, which has been perfect and they're not overly expensive for what they are, and how much money they can save you in terms of extending the life of food and preserving things (my smoked cheese stays good for months in vacuum bags too!). It's not only great for sealing food to cook sous vide, it extends the life of my frozen fish and meat etc. at least four times as long, and I've had no freezer burn on anything I've sealed before freezing (which I've been doing for over a year now!).

If you haven't got a vacuum sealer you can use re-sealable food bags - but make sure they're sealed properly, or you may end up with water in there, which defeats the object. You can either push your chicken breast right to the bottom, and push out the air manually by a combination of squashing the bag flat with your hands, and/or rolling it up then sealing it, or you can use the 'water displacement method'. Put your chicken breast in a re-sealable bag, at the bottom and fill a jug or pan with (cold) water. Using this method, you could actually add some olive oil (or oil of your choice) to assist with displacing the air from the bag (but it's not essential). Put the bag into the water, open side up, and gently push the chicken under, submerging all of the bag bar the seal. Start sealing from one side, gently pushing the rest of the bag under as you seal (without getting any water in the bag) until it is fully sealed with as much air pushed out as possible.

Secondly: Temperature
The perfect temperature to cook boneless, skinless chicken breast at (thighs is another matter) is 60C / 140F. There's no question about it, this will give you beautifully moist, tender meat. I've lost count of the amount of times I've cooked chicken breasts like this (and also chicken breast mini-fillets - but they will stick together somewhat if they're touching each other in a bag, so be warned!). So, fill your sous-vide machine somewhere between the minimum and maximum mark (depending on how many breasts you're cooking, and how big it is - and set to 60C / 140F and wait for it to come up to temperature. Remember to use the rack so that the chicken breasts are separated and the water can circulate around them individually), enough to comfortable cover everything - I use this Sous Vide Supreme Demi and although I believe the capacity is supposed to be twelve chicken breasts, I find eight is plenty. I also recently noticed that an Andrew James model has come onto the market for under £100 (see here), which is phenomenally cheap - I haven't tried it out, but I have quite a few other Andrew James products, all of which have worked well and been reliable.The top comment indicates that the timer is for a maximum of 24 hours, so you'd have to press a button a couple of times if cooking anything for longer than this (I can't imagine this would be a huge problem), and also that it was 2 or 3 degrees higher than indicated when he checked it with a lab thermometer - so if this was the case, you'd need to 're-calibrate' it, by setting it 2 or 3 degrees lower, if you found the same. I think I'd happily put up with those two niggles if mine died and I had to buy another!

If you haven't got a water bath, you can cook this in a Thermomix instead
(But I don't recommend trying to cook it in a large pan with a thermometer, turning the heat on and off, because it really needs to be at a constant temperature, to ensure all pathogens are destroyed.)
I wouldn't recommend trying to cook more than two chicken breasts at a time in a Thermomix, due to the space limitations of the internal basket, as the water needs to circulate around the chicken breasts while they cook, and I'd stick to modestly-sized chicken breasts too, around 120-130g or so. To heat the water in the Thermomix, fill to approximately 1/2 inch / 2cm below the 2 litre mark in the bowl with (cold) water, insert the internal basket and check that the bagged-up chicken breasts will be covered by this amount, then removed them and set aside while you heat the water. Put the lid and the MC on, and set to 60C / 20 minutes / Speed 2. Or you can fill half and half-ish with cold water and boiling water, and use a digital thermometer to check the temperature until it hits 60C. Then set to the appropriate cooking time (see the next paragraph), keeping the other settings at 60C and Speed 2. (N.B. If you want to know how to cook perfect sous vide steak in the TM5 or TM31 have a look here for my instructions on how to do it!)

Thirdly: Length of cooking time
It is very important to cook the chicken breasts for a MINIMUM of two hours*. Nothing less. Sorry for bold letters and 'shouty' capitals, but this is the length of time needed to cook the chicken breasts at 60C in order to kill all of the pathogens so that they are completely safe to eat (or in other words, pasteurise them). *If your chicken breasts are more than 3cm thick, then you need to add on an extra 15 minutes for every extra 1/2cm (there's a table here regarding pasteurisaion, by Douglas Baldwin, if you want more information on cooking times, and also on sous vide in general). On the flip side is, the beauty of sous vide with certain types of meat and poultry etc. is that you don't need to immediately whip them out when they've been in for the required cooking time - they'll be quite happy sitting in there for another hour, even two, if your sides aren't quite ready. Which is great for someone disorganised like me - I can even have a little nap while they're on or do some housework!

Fourthly: Searing and serving
Your chicken breasts should now be perfectly and evenly cooked through - they may be a subtly different colour than you're used to, i.e. just the vaguest hint of pink to the whiteness, but they are perfect, and no worries about being under-cooked or any pathogens. However, unless you've lightly brined them (see below), they are currently without any real flavour - even if you've cooked them in aromatics, they lack salt (without brining), and, well, 'chicken-y' flavour. Which is where searing them comes in. Browning meat is where the real flavour comes from - when the meat heats the hot pan, the flesh turns brown from a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars - the scientific term being the Maillard reaction. Just think of the difference in taste between some plain, white bread without a crust, and hot buttered toast. (Which thought made your mouth water?!). So, get a good, heavy-based (possibly non-stick) pan onto the hob, and heat it up (with no oil in yet) until it's sizzling hot - check by flicking in some water and seeing whether it instantly sizzles and disappears. Then your pan is ready. It needs to be this hot, as you don't want to cook the chicken further (it's already perfect), you just want to sear the very outside and get that lovely, umami, chicken-y flavour. As a preference, I tend to quite often oil my meat, rather than the pan, and sometimes add a little oil to the pan (especially with fish, if I want to avoid it sticking), it's up to you which you do. But if you haven't brined it, you need to salt it, before you put it in the pan (unless you're on a no-salt diet, or anything, obviously!). I'd save pepper for after searing it, as it will just burn and turn bitter. Cajun seasoning is nice, if you want something spicy that sears well in a pan (and I don't bother brining if I'm going to do Cajun chicken - my Cajun seasoning recipe is here, which has no added salt so that you can use it as lightly or heavily as you like, and add salt to taste) - I do love Cajun chicken with salad and coleslaw (my recipe for coleslaw is here) and a jacket potato; or with mango salsa (recipe here), salad and rice. Anyway, I've gone off on a tangent - essentially, once your pan is sizzling hot, add oil (or ghee, or coconut oil etc. - butter is likely to burn because of the solids, at this temperature, so I wouldn't use it), swirl around, then lay the seasoned chicken breasts into it, leave a few seconds until browned, then quickly turn and repeat on the other side, and remove immediately to a plate. That's it, your done! Sit down and savour with your favourite accompaniments... (or see below the photos for brining tips).

For my instructions on how to cook the perfect steak (for you!) sous vide have a look here for both Thermomix TM5 and Thermomix TM31 instructions - you won't go back!

If you're interested in also knowing how to cook the 'perfect' salmon fillet sous vide, whether in a water bath or in a Thermomix, I have given full instructions here - and for a simpler set of dedicated Thermomix only instructions, click here.

Salmon cooked sous vide then seared (also brined and smoked), shown with my warm new potato, green bean, and caper salad with a lemony herb dressing.

And if you're feeling really daring, and want to give cooking the family roast turkey a go, for a sublime and moist turkey breast joint, why not have a go at my sous vide turkey recipe, especially great for Easter and Christmas, when you want perfectly cooked turkey and NO stress! And perfect for ordinary Sunday dinners, as you can turn an economical, frozen joint into something sublime, with no fuss.

Optional extra: Brining
Brining light-fleshed poultry and meat, such as chicken, turkey and pork, as well as some fish, adds a subtle flavour to them, and more importantly means that the liquid outside the meat, is drawn in (osmosis, it's saltier) increasing the weight and moisture of the meat as well as adding to the flavour. Moisture is generally lost during cooking (up to 20% or more for meat), and increasing the moisture content before cooking (by around 10% or more, by brining), means you will have more moisture left after cooking. Hence your meat is generally moister and tastier. Brining can also break down some of the structure of the meat, making it more tender. If you want to brine chicken breasts, you could brine in a 3-6% solution, depending on your tastes, and how long you have. I'd recommend using fine sea salt, as it doesn't have additives (or shouldn't!). E.g. you could brine in a 5% salt solution (50g salt dissolved into 1 litre of water) for half an hour, or use a 3% salt solution (30g salt dissolved into 1 litre of water) for one hour. You can also add sugar to brines (equivalent or less than the salt - soft dark brown sugar gives a nice flavour, if you're not using other flavours), toasted lightly crushed whole spices, bashed herbs (to release the flavour), whatever you fancy. Just don't leave in there too long, and rinse and pat dry before sealing in bags to sous vide.

1 comment:

  1. I am using Foodsaver V3880 for sous vide chicken. It is so amazing that it can help me to save money and time.


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