I haven’t found a lot of information on the matter. Seems a bit odd considering how much importance people give to the “cook until juices run clear” rule in a time when sous vide cooking is becoming more popular but maybe that’s just me not crawling the web more thoroughly. If you’ve seen any good source of info let me know please… and I gotta warn yah, this post is probably a little graphic and off-putting but if you’ve been reading this blog…it happens.
Juices don’t run clear at 62C no matter how long.
If you’ve cooked chicken sous vide at relatively low temperatures (62 C – 145F) you probably have run into the pink juice situation and not only pink juices but the meat is also a bit on the pink side (the dark meat specially). I spoke to some sous vide cooks about this and they definitely disregard this as an issue because it really isn’t. The color of the juices has little to do with safety if the food is properly pasteurized during the cooking process. If anything, this pink juice stuff is nothing but an aesthetics problem in my mind when you’re cooking sous vide.
What makes juices run pink?
Myoglobin is the protein responsible for those pink juices. There’s also blood in the bones, etc and it all contributes to juices taking on a reddish color. Now for juices to run clear, myoglobin and hemoglobin need to cook at a temperatures that ensures their coagulation. Cooking chicken at 62C doesn’t achieve this and juices will not run clear. USDA/FDA recommended temperatures of 74C will achieve this and take care of the color issue but will also ensure your chicken is overcooked, specially the white meat.
Are pink juices unsafe? well… it depends.
Pathogens will die if cooked at 62C just like they will at 74F, it might take a bit longer but pasteurization is definitely guaranteed. At 62C you can pasteurize pink juices. At 74C you can pasteurize the juices and also change its color to the universally appealing and glorious clear state. I cooked a whole chicken for 12 hours (there was brine in the bag ensuring the whole chicken was submerged to avoid any issues with uneven cooking or undercooking inside the thorax cavity). That’s about 10 hours longer than needed to ensure pasteurization all the way to the core and those juices ran pink everywhere as expected, perfectly pasteurized but perfectly pink juices. Collagen denatured too and a ton of it. The texture of the meat was very tender and the bone cartilage had softened drastically. The stock inside the baggie was rich in gelatine. The white meat was pretty much white but the dark meat had that pinkish look as expected.
The “cook until juices run clear” rule.
Anyways, it’s been drilled into hour heads (at least mine) and for a good reason that juices should run clear after cooking chicken. It’s an easy visual indicator that the chicken has been cooked through and pasteurized. It’s a lazy yet effective rule that allow cooks to know when they’ve applied enough heat, achieved pasteurization and it will all be well after eating that deliciously overcooked chicken. Sous vide cooking relies on a more precise approach to ensuring the food is perfectly safe to eat and this has nothing to do with the color of the juices in cooked chicken. It’s all about pasteurization by the numbers, temperature and time. I will skip the details but this has all been more than well documented online and in books, etc.
Pink but perfectly pasteurized chicken but still…
It’s very difficult to sell any of these to most people though. Nobody wants to eat slightly pink chicken or see chicken blood on their plates. That just triggers all kinds of self-preservation alarms in people’s heads. Some chicken might contain more myoglobin than others. If you brine in an acidic solution that would help the denaturing of myoglobin and hemoglobin so there’s a change that even if cooking sous vide at low temperatures you might have not seen this issue before. It’s also hard to run into this issue if cooking deboned chicken, or pieces individually as opposed to the whole chicken. I also wonder about the myoglobin content of chicken raised on hormone vs free range organic chicken.. happy chicken. Anyways, I will keep researching. There are so many variables and so many questions.
What about you? how do you feel?
How do you feel about this? Do you not get pink juices when cooking sous vide chicken? and if you do… how do you go about it? do you cook at higher temperatures just to get around this issue? do you care? do your guests care? I find this whole thing really interesting but I also need to run, please right, leave your input in the message section below!