Have you tried cooking a whole chicken in your Varoma (steamer) yet? Skeptical? So was I! But read on, pleasant surprises were in store, and my chickens won't be going back into the oven to roast from now on...
Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm pretty particular about my chicken, and to put it politely, I'm really not a fan of dried out chicken breast - you might have seen just how serious I am about this, if you've seen my blog on how to cook chicken breasts sous vide (includes how to do it in a Thermomix, of couse!).
So, it took me a fair few pokes to actually reluctantly give this a go. I was finally persuaded to have a go by the proclamations of it being deliciously moist chicken, by a few members in the Thermomix Owners UK group on Facebook who had given it a try (Facebook has a lot to answer for!). I wasn't really expecting great things, so I have to say it was a very pleasant surprise when I actually went for it! I mean... steamed chicken? As you can see from the photo, if you wish to serve it as a roast rather than using the meat for other dishes it can have a final 'browning' but only needs 10 or so minutes in a high temperature oven, just to give the skin that lovely golden crispiness, giving it that delicious roast-chicken flavour, but with infinitely moister meat! So I had a bit of a tinker, and came out with a method and timings to suit us in the TM31, and then in the TM5 too...
You don't need a Thermomix to cook this, it's pretty simple if you haven't got one - you can just steam it instead, assuming your steamer has a basket large enough to hold a chicken (which some do)! I'd recommend steaming it over a pan, so you can collect all of the lovely juices and use them in any gravy or sauce you make to have with it. I do strongly recommend the use of a digital thermometer or probe (at least until you're confident in cooking it this way), to check that your chicken has reached the correct temperature - and also to prevent over-cooking it - they hardly cost anything, and are well worth the investment! (You can even get ones with the probe on a wire, so you can stick the probe in the meat, and have the little digital unit at the end of the wire outside of your oven, steamer, BBQ etc. and monitor your meat without moving it, or set an alarm to go off when it reaches your desired temperature, for less than the price of a cookbook! Mine is Polder brand, and it's worked well for us).
So, what do you need to cook this?
1 chicken (TM31 up to 1.6kg; TM5 up to 2kg; Steamer to fit your largest basket)
Water (1000g TM31; 1,200g TM5; Steamer as per instructions)
Optional seasoning and butter / oil (not necessary if you only want the cooked meat for other dishes, but nice if you'd like to put it into the oven and crisp up the skin)
Optional stock paste / cubes / bouillon concentrate to put in steaming water to make gravy / broth / sauce etc. I put in sufficient to make 800ml -1 litre of stock / bouillon.
Digital thermometer/probe that you can use to check the internal temperature of the chicken (I use a Polder probe, which is like a bent metal knitting needle on a wire, attached to a little unit with a digital display, they're not expensive, but incredibly useful!)
Well, they're your basics! See Tips below for other ideas.
Time to get cooking that chicken. Firstly, I do recommend using a digital thermometer if you can get your hands on one. It's a great way to really know when you're in the 'safe zone' and avoid overcooking meat. For chicken to be 'safely' cooked (excluding cooking sous vide at prolongued lower temperatures which will pasteurise it after a certain amount of time, for example cooking chicken breasts at 60C for 2 hours) it is recommended that the internal temperature of the thickest part reaches 74C.
The thing is, the higher the temperature gets, the more the muscle cells contract, and therefore the more moisture is squeezed out - hence muscles from lean meat without fat marbling can become quite dry as a cooked meat. So having a thermometer means that you can make a decision as to when it's cooked through, and avoid leaving it in too long and overcooking. You will find with this method of cooking that, for example with the breast meat, you can puncture the breast, the juices will run clear, the thermometer will register a 'safe' temperature and yet the meat may appear to have a hint of a pink hue to it. Provided the legs were untrussed, and the thickest part is cooked through to 74C this is no problem whatsoever. If it's something that you're not comfortable with, then cook it for longer, but you will lose out on some of the moistness, and the temperature is the best indicator of done-ness.
Another thing you will find with this method of cooking, is that the thighs end up cooked through to a temperature around 10C higher that the breasts - so if you're measuring it at the thickest part of the thigh (ensuring the thermometer/probe is not touching the bone) the temperature will be in the 80's. As the thigh meat is quite forgiving, this is fine too.
To prepare your chicken
The only thing I strongly recommend to do, in addition to your usual preparation routine is to cut off any string binding the chicken, untuck the legs and wings and spread them out from the body, and (this is the brutal part), you do need to trim off the legs at the joint just under the drumstick part. Otherwise, while your chicken is lying on its back in the steamer, as it cooks and its muscles and tendons contract, its legs will go from bent to straight (as below), and may take your Varoma lid with them (well, you have to test these things)!
Weigh cold water into the Thermomix bowl (for TM31 weigh in 1,000g; for TM5 weigh in 1,200g) and add stock paste / concentrate / cubes if using (sufficient to make up 800ml to 1 litre). See below in italics if steaming manually. Put on the lid, with the Varoma on top, then add the chicken (with trimmed legs) to the Varoma dish, season if you wish, and place the Varoma lid on top, ensuring it fits correctly.
TM31 - cook 45 minutes / Varoma temperature / Speed 2 (then check temperatures)
TM5 - cook 60 minutes / Varoma temperature / Speed 2 (then check temperatures)
If you're transferring to the oven to brown the chicken for ten minutes (see below), the thickest part of the breast needs to be at least 72C / 162F (and the thickest part of both thighs should be at least 74C / 165F, although you will probably find it is nearer 82C / 180F by this point, which is fine). Add the chicken back to the Varoma for another 10-15 minutes or longer if necessary.
If you're not finishing it off into the oven, then make sure that the thickest parts of the breast / thigh register at a minimum of 74C / 165F. Add back to the Varoma for another 10-15 minutes or longer if necessary.
[If steaming over a pan, or in an electric steamer, add a litre of water to your pan, or follow the electric steamer instructions, and once the water is boiling and releasing plenty of steam, if you're browning in the over afterwards cook your chicken initially for 35-45 minutes up to 1.6kg, and 60-75 minutes for 2.0kg then check the internal temperature / juices are running clear - if not, cook for longer - timings will depend on the volume / intensity of steam passing through the basket. If you're not using the oven to brown your chicken, increase your cooking times accordingly.]
Finishing off in the oven
And that's it, you're done! I like to leave my chicken to rest for 15-20 minutes after I take it out of the oven. This means, that from when I put it into the oven, I have a good 25-30 minutes to utilise the Thermomix again, as well as a hot oven to cook whatever sides I want to serve with it, or make a dish to use the chicken meat in, such as the quick and tasty Tom Yum chicken meal we had this week, which used just under half a chicken to feed four people (which meant a 2kg chicken made enough food for 10-12 portions overall - how economical is that!).
Tom Yum recipe to follow... see the Tips just below for some ideas for some delicious, naturally flavoured butters to rub under or on your chicken's skin!
TipsFor super quick cooking, you can add boiling water to the bowl - I found adding 1.5 litres of boiling water to the bowl, meant a 1.35kg was cooked through to safe temperatures in 35 minutes.
To add some delicious flavour to your chicken, you could rub a flavoured butter underneath the skin of the breasts and the thighs (a pair of food safe plastic gloves are helpful for this!). Set your blades to running speed 8, and drop on your choice of any of the following, depending on your tastes: Handful of fresh parsley / leaves from a couple sprigs fresh rosemary or thyme / leaves from 3-4 sprigs tarragon / 4-6 fresh sage leaves / handful basil / pared off zest from 1/2 to 1 lemon / 1 large red de-seeded chilli cut into strips / 1-3 peeled garlic cloves / 2-4 anchovies in olive oil / 2-4 sundried tomatoes then scrape down and add 20-50g of butter (you could also add mustard at this stage, and / or ground black pepper, and salt if using unsalted butter), and mix together speed 4-6 until combined. Loosen the skin at both ends of the chicken (wearing gloves is preferable to do this) - at one end loosen it between the skin and the breasts, by gently sliding your fingers in and working them down each side of the breasts, then turn the chicken around, and work them between the skin and the thigh at each side (you won't get any further than the thigh, realistically). Once you've loosened the skin, you can start pushing the herb butter underneath, and spreading it around (you can do this by pushing and spreading it from above the skin, once you've got some underneath). Once it's relatively evenly spread around, you can save any leftovers to smear on top of the chicken skin before crisping it up in the oven for the last 10 minutes, and you're ready to go!
Some nice classic combinations are...
Garlic, rosemary and chilli butter
Parsley, lemon and garlic butter
Tarragon and mustard butter (try a couple heaped teaspoons of wholegrain)
Basil, sundried tomato and chilli butter
Anchovy, garlic and mixed herbs