I picked the lowly chicken breast as my initial trial for a number of reasons. First, in the relative grand scheme of things, they are cheap. I bought the air chilled, all natural, organic, pasture raised chicken breasts from Whole Foods (alas, I had been unable to get to my usual farmer source). It is hard to ruin a chicken breast, unless you overcook it terribly. Even with no experience, I knew the SVS would not let me do this. Finally, I want to become familiar with the most basic flavors and textures while in SV infancy – there is plenty of time to get complex. Better to concentrate on learning about doneness issues, the effect that the SV process has on texture and how seasoning and flavorings differ with cooked-in-the-bag food compared to conventional methods.
- Into the water oven with you, my little pretties. I decided that the cooking time would be dictated by convenience. I knew this would be more than the minimum time required, so I had no concerns about safety. After all I have read, the one thing I was not worried about was overcooking the things. Very cool! It turned out to be about 90 minutes.
Various sources told me to cook these babies at 60, 62.5, 63, and 65 degrees for 1 to 4 hours. A lot of help here – but I am a person who can make a decision, where needed in order to move forward, so I picked 63.5. When the display on the SVS read my target temperature, I dipped in my instant read thermometer just so see what it said. Lo and behold, it read 63.4. I’m impressed.
Now how to serve what I hoped would be buttery tender hunks of chickeny deliciousness? It was getting a little late and my teenaged step daughter was in on the meal so it couldn’t be too complex. KISS (keep it simple, step-mother). Putting the rich chicken stock I keep on hand, I settled on making an intense but light sauce flavored with shallots, tarragon, mustard and white pepper. I sautéed the shallots in butter, deglazed with some dry champagne and reduced the liquid by about a third. After straining it through the Chinois, I came up with a beautiful golden brown sauce. For my side, I steamed some potato onion pierogi (Jewish/Polish ravioli??) and drizzled them with Dijon flavored sour cream.
The chicken came out of the water bath moist and tender: there was practically no liquid in the bag when I cut it open, every bit was retained in the meat. I’m so new to this so I have to apologize for having forgotten to take a photo of the naked breasts. They got their color because I quickly seared them in a pan coated with a film of grape seed oil which I brought to the smoke point before taking the chicken out of the bag. Learning ways to get things cooked sous vide to have a wonderful color or crust (which results from inducing the Maillard reaction) is part of the process. I can’t wait to get a blow torch!
I sliced the breasts on an angle and got ready to serve my family my first sous vide adventure. On the plate, I added the sauce and used a tiny amount of flat leaf parsley for a bit of color.
- My finished experiment was not beautiful, but it tasted great. The texture was very good: not the least bit mealy, stringy or dry, though not quite the “buttery” I am looking for. It was juicy and very moist. There was absolutely no comparison to conventionally cooked chicken breasts. I was a little too quick with the searing so they did not come out as well carmelized as I would have liked. Also, I think that next time I will try butter (flavored?). Maybe I need to get an iron skillet?
I can see endless uses for chicken breasts prepared sous vide. In fact, I had one left over and I could not keep myself from enjoying a good old fashioned chicken sandwich for lunch the next day. It was a perfect moist consistency and eating it cold did it no injustice. I don’t know about you but I can’t stand it when meat has any kind of spongy consistency to it. I particularly hate those industrial breasts that chain restaurants use in everything, including on top of salads. They really gross me out. The SV breast would be so much better for this application.
What I learned: (1) I will dial down the temp on the chicken next time to 61 or 62. I think this is enough. They were not at all overdone but I have a sneaking suspicion that they could handle a tad less heat. (2) I seasoned them in the bag with just salt and a tiny bit of white pepper. They can use stronger seasonings: some herbs would work very well. If you like flavorings, a little ginger-teriyaki glaze, or Dijon mustard would do well. (3) This will be a great item to cook off and then quick chill for future use. I am going to do this and then freeze and then reheat them in the SVS. I’ll let you know what happens.
Next up: What am I going to do with those lamb shanks?