If you’re a bit OCD, you like chicken and you like to cook it yourself , this post might be of interest. I know I keep talking about chicken. I talk about chicken a LOT. Because I love chicken and I can recount the few times I have had a good chicken dish at a restaurant. In many cases is just a disaster. If at a BBQ, I will politely turn down grilled chicken breasts and stick to eating only the more heat resistant dark meat but even that goes wrong very often. A grill isn’t exactly devised for precision cooking. A smoker… it’s a step up in the right direction and can render some amazing results but how many of us have a smoker sitting in their backyard. I don’t even have a backyard. If I had one and some money, I’d get a smoker. Guess where I’d put it. In the backyard.
Today’s post. Chicken nightmares. In honour to all my overcooked chicken dinners. My chicken cooking improved dramatically after learning a few things about proteins and the effect of heat. Understanding what heat does to food is essential in improving cooking in genera. I find that cooking chicken is a great, relatively cheap and delicious way to fine tune the skill of heat application. Chickens are very complicated creatures. I’m talking about their meat, I’m sure they have very complicated lives too. They can be cooked whole at the same temperature but this isn’t ideal (I love roasting whole chickens, don’t get me wrong, but when on my OCD mood kicks in hard, the notion of roasting a whole chicken just makes me super anxious). Each muscle requires a different temperature and cooking time (same goes for pretty much any animal tissue). We can average those temperatures and cook the whole bird that way for as long as the longest of the cooking times required… obviously there are compromises and the end result although pretty delicious won’t be “perfect”. Cooking chicken sous vide requires the extra step of browning the skin. This sounds easy. Pan sear the thing and done. Well. That’s ok, but I want better browning. I want even browning everywhere which means the chicken meat must be fully submerged in hot oil. Which means deep frying. If you know of a better way, I’m all ears.
The photo above speaks for itself. Chicken disaster. In this case I wanted to come up with a way to sous vide whole chicken legs and deep fry them to get a crispy skin. Since I’ve bought my deep fryer a few months ago I’ve done some experimentation and I love using it to sear meats and other things. Turns out, chicken skin is the most resilient matter in the universe. At 375F which is the highest temp most deep fryers reach, it takes about 10-15 mins for proper browning. In 10 mins a chicken at room temperature will reach core temperatures around 80C-100C. Not good. Not good at all. I want the meat to stay at 62C or cooler and then get the skin to crisp up and brown nicely. Pretty tricky stuff.
How about cooking the chicken sous vide at 62C for about 2 hours and then freezing it before it goes in the fryer. Seemed like it was worth a shot. The chicken leg thawed and overcooked. Like a lot. With a core temperature of ~70C. Imagine what it did to the meat near the surface.
I tried it again. This time for only 10 mins and here is an image… not as scary as the previous one:
This wasn’t bad. Some browning and some crispiness but some soggy areas too. The meat was overcooked close to the surface obviously, but the core temperature remained at 23C-30C. Yeah, a bit cold but the chicken is already cooked before it goes in the fryer so no worries there. Also, carryover heat will bring the core up to about 30C-40C in a few mins. If you want hotter core, you can always stick the chicken in a warm over for a few minutes and done. Delicious and juicy but not “perfect”.
For “perfection” I need to figure out a way to brown the skin faster. I can think of 5 ways:
- Hotter oil.
- Alkaline solution.
- Sugar brine.
- Drying the skin before frying.
- Liquid Nitrogen.
Hotter oil is probably the most practical and effective one. I’m not gonna rig up my fryer to go higher than 375. But I can definitely use a cast iron pot and heat up the oil to 450F which would be ideal (careful here, that’s near the auto-ignition point of most cooking oils. Stick to avocado oil or ghee). Dangerous though. I know what a kitchen fire looks like. A kitchen nightmare. Anyways, it’s on my list of things to try.
The alkaline solution might work. Upping the alkalinity of something speeds up the maillard reaction. The same concept behind making pretzels. But I don’t know in what way it will affect the flavour, plus… Browning and crisping are not the same thing, one can happen while the other one lags behind.
Some sugar in the brine. This is something that I’ve definitely done in the past and it does render beautiful golden brown skin rather quickly but little crisp factor. I’ll take soggy beautiful golden brown skin over pale and soggy any day though. The crisp factor is proportional to the amount of water in the skin. Zero water. Absolute crispiness.
Drying the skin before frying helps a lot. Basically, leaving the chicken in the fridge over the course of 12-24 will do the trick. Usually the chicken is brined prior to this. If you’re concerned with bacteria growth over this period of time you can always blanche the chicken in boiling water for a few seconds. Then add the chicken to the chilly brine solution and that should be extra safe.
Liquid Nitrogen. One day I will play with this idea.
Sounds like the best combination of techniques to get chicken that is cooked to the temperature of your liking and to get the skin to crisp up should involve brining the chicken with some small percentage of sugar in the brine yet to be determined. Cooking the chicken sous vide or by poaching. Allowing the chicken to dry in the fridge overnight. Freezing the chicken. Deep frying at 500F for a few minutes. How many minutes? Not sure sure. I’ll let you know once I get over my fear of kitchen fires.
Here here are my technical notes on this experiment:
Sous Vide Chicken Whole Legs. 2 hours @ 62C 12h saline brine.
Most successful test:
10 mins deep-frying @ 375F. Subpar browning and crispiness. Meat remains moist. Core internal temp: 23C-30C. Semi-fail.
15 mins deep-frying @ 375F. Acceptable browning and crispiness. Meat overcooks. Core internal temp 75C-80C. Fail.
Happy chicken nightmares. Halloween is around the corner.