Or: How I fought the Breast Meat Trend, and how I HOPE to WIN!!!
I’m going to be raising chickens this year.
I’ve ordered 9 meat birds (“red broilers”) to arrive the first week of May.
I also ordered egg layers, aka in this case dual purpose birds: 10 hens and one rooster to keep them (and some of the local predators) in line. I won’t be breeding them this year, but I want to see which birds work best for me here. Breeds: Wyandotte, Buff Orpington, Buckeye and Australorpe. I picked docile, good eggers, winter hardy birds. And any particularly nasty or clueless birds that show up… Roasters. (Yum.)
I’ll be running two chicken tractors with areas marked off with electro-fence netting; I will move them every 2-3 days. I want to transition into sustainable, once I know what the parameters of “sustainable” in my corner of rural Massachusetts will mean to me.
As regular readers here know, I dislike the breast meat on both chickens and turkey. (It is deLICSHous on duck.) It is dry and essentially flavorless. All the nutrients are in the dark, and yes, the fat — but with range raised birds, that latter matters less. The dark meat is the part of the chicken that actually exercises! Now, I’ve experimented, and with very thin chicken breast cutlets, the meat gains some moist tenderness, enough that I can cook and enjoy on its own (if properly seasoned). Thing is, they go from Gordon Ramsey’s RAAAWW!! to overcooked in the blink of an eye. Which is why only the thin cutlets work for me, and I do have to cook them for myself – in a thick breast, the exterior is dry as a bone, and there MAY be a small kernel of just right in the center… or it may be raw… or it may be over cooked anyway. You can’t see it to tell until too late.
I’m going to have those nine meat birds, and unfortunately one cannot raise a bird with only one type of meat — okay, the breeders of those unnatural Cornish Crosses are attempting to go in the other direction, and unfortunately are succeeding to some degree — but I will have white and dark meat coming with my birds. Less white with the Red Broilers, but they’ll still have it. I don’t want to raise my chickens with the idea of providing farm-fresh cat food to my three felines, who don’t care what part of the chicken they get!
So, enter Sous Vide.
My weapon of choice is the Gourmia. I read up on them, and went for the gold. Well, that’s the color of the Gourmia I ordered from Amazon. Both the Anova and the Joule appear to be industry standards for immersion units, but the Joule NEEDS to interact with Wi-Fi/the Internet in order to run. You can control it from an app on your cell phone – in fact, you have to. My cell doesn’t get much of a signal here. I don’t like options being closed off, like good ole fashioned manual entry. There is value in some portion of the Internet of Things, but for me, with my dodgy cell and occasional unresponsiveness of the Internet here, no wanna depend on. All Internet systems need some sort of human override!
The Anova looked really good… best of both worlds. You can use it manually or you can set from afar via the Internet/Bluetooth/Alexa/Whatever. I didn’t go with that because there were some consumer complaints about equipment problems (probably rare? People do tend to post more when they find problems…) and because, since I won’t be doing Internet with it anyway, the Gourmia is cheaper and had far less apparent consumer complaints (at least on Amazon).
The gold model was even discounted $10 dollars… some comment on Amazon stated this one was cheaper because no one wanted gold, so they had to move them. That’s fine… I think I may have gone gold whether or not the price discount. It’s different and rather cool and it is not an appliance that will be stored counter top when not in use to begin with.
Gourmia is in no way sponsoring this post. I don’t even (yet) have an Amazon link-back.
I did not buy a special container to sous vide in. I am using my stainless steel stew pot, which also doubles as a lobster pot, and triples as my water bath canning pot. For lengthy cooks, I will cover with re-usable aluminum foil, to foil (ahem) evaporation. I do not have a vacuum food sealer (I plan to get one for other reasons — farm storage — but it is not something necessary for sous vide). Use good quality, BPA-free zip lock style bags.
You do have to read the manual. Although there are not a lot of controls on the implement, it is not just pull out and run for this Gourmia.
To Brine or Not To Brine: That is the question… I brined a heritage turkey on which I spent way too much money at Whole Wallet for, a few years ago using less salt than the recipe called for – and while the turkey in question turned out moist and juicy, even the white bits, it was still far too salty for me to enjoy. Even though I’d rinsed the thing early and often before voting, er before cooking… I ate it, because I’d spent good money on it, but I didn’t even attempt to feed extra of this salt bog to my cats, because I figured it would be unhealthy to their little metabolisms. Not a single bone from it found its way into future cooking stock, which shows you how bad brining might go. I gag every time I watch a video with pro chefs salting their meats… yes, some meats cry out for salt, but I really think most of those guys have burnt out their taste buds with the amount they use.
I bought organic chicken for my experiment… I am NOT brining chicken I spent good money on. Fortunately, Serious Eats doesn’t push the brining button for sous vide chicken breast.
Okay, the sauce: Even though chicken breast promised to be a lot more juicy done sous vide, especially since I had skin-on (and bone-in) chicken, I wanted a sauce. And I had a batch of mushrooms intended for a different recipe that I didn’t (yet) get around to making, so I figured a good mushroom/citrus/onion/wine sauce would be good… with a little garlic, and soft cheese in the mix, maybe some… Spinach… Yeah, that’s the ticket!! Plus, flavor. Just retaining juice by itself isn’t necessarily going to fix innate bland in the target food item.
Consider this a weekend, not a work-night, meal.
Prep time: However long it takes for your water bath to come to temperature + 10 minutes to prep your birds + about 25 minutes at the end, most of which will overlap the last of the sous vide time.
Sous vide time: 1-3 hours, I went with 1.5 hrs.
Conventional cook time: 20 minutes, most of which overlapped with the end of sous vide time.
Rest time: Maybe 5 minutes. (With sous vide, rest is not critical.)
Serves: 2. One breast apiece.
Leftovers? Yes. I spread thin on a plate and nuked in the microwave as briefly as possible.
Special equipment: Sous vide, something BPA-free to seal food into, container large enough to handle the sous vide and hold the meat.
Sous Vide Chicken Breast with Mushroom, Lime, Wine, Goat Cheese, Onion and Mustard Sauce
- 2 skin on chicken breasts. Remove the wing if it is attached, and reserve for another dish, or for stock. Most skin on breasts these days still have internal bones in the supermarket, but whichever you find, this recipe goes with skin on, bones incidental. Skin. Flavor. Sorry. You won’t have to eat it at the end. My chicken was Coleman’s Organic Griller Pack, 2 breasts and four drumsticks. Reserve any wings, drumsticks or thighs for another recipe. They sous vide best at higher temps.
- Salt and ground pepper. 1/4 teaspoon per side, max, and I did use under, which means 1/2 teaspoon for each of these breasts. But see the next ingredient…
- The experimental bits: 1 slice of bacon to wrap around ONE of the breasts. 2 teaspoons of olive oil (or avocado oil) for the OTHER breast. Since this bacon is saltier than most, I decreased the amount of salt I added to that first breast by half.
- 2 or so sprigs of thyme, one for each breast.
The above is for sous vide. The rest of the ingredients below are assembled for the sauce.
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped.
- 8 ounces white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced.
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed. (or three, mine are huge)
- 3 teaspoons butter or ghee.
- Juice from 1 lemon or two limes. I used limes.
- 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon.
- Ground pepper to taste.
- 3 ounces cheese, preferably soft goat cheese, break it up so it works in faster. A thick canned coconut milk would also work here.
- 2 tablespoons whole milk (or a splash more of coconut milk)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine. OR, use veggie or chicken broth if you don’t choose wine.
- 2-3 ounces spinach, preferably fresh. Hand shred if larger leaves. Thaw if frozen.
- Fresh parsley as an optional garnish. Crumbled bacon as another potential garnish, if you go the bacon-wrapped breast route.
Sous Vide: Set at 148 F (64-65 C). The time getting the water to heat to the proper temperature depends on what you are using, and the size of the container you are heating, of course. (Today it took about half an hour.) Plan on sous vide for 1-3 hours. 1 hour is plenty to kill bacteria and such nasties at this temperature. I’m told texture will change after 3-4 hours towards the mushy, so I’d err on the earlier end of this restriction. I used 2 hours here.
Season the breasts both sides with ingredients mentioned above. Tuck into individual zip lock bags… or use a vacuum sealer if you have one, following directions for your unit. For water displacement method using zip locks, put the food item in, zip the lock nearly all closed, submerse and wait for the air to displace out of the bag. When it is all gone, and you are holding the bag so there is only a fragment of air left – only that last part above the water surface – go ahead and seal firmly.
My bags float up where that last bit of air is but all the food is safely down below being cooked. You can use clips to hold your food in place against the side of the container (I don’t have any of the right size), and you can use weights to hold food to the bottom. I let mine float at this point, and check occasionally to make sure they don’t block either the intake or outtake of my sous vide. They haven’t, to date.
You can cover the top of whatever you are using to contain your sous vide food, but for a two hour time point, it’s not necessary.
When sous vide time is almost up – and this is a good thing about sous vide, you can take your own time for finalizing these next steps – get your sauce mise en place in place.
In a large sauté pan:
Sauté the onion in butter until it becomes translucent, about 10 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and garlic, and let them just become soft, about 5 – 7 minutes.
Add the herbs and seasonings and the lemon juice, stir another minute or two.
Add the cheese, and stir about a minute, until the cheese melts.
Add the wine, and simmer about 15 minutes. 20 is okay.
Remove the chicken from the sous vide. Remove the thyme twigs, and the bacon, and the chicken skin – you can discard all these (I patted the bacon and the skin dry, and tried oven-baking them at 425 F (218 C) to see if I could bring on some nice crispness quickly. The bacon was ready in 10 minutes, but this will depend on the thickness of your bacon. The chicken skin took just short of 20 minutes.) Slice the chicken against the grain.
Add any chicken drippings from the chicken into this sauce now.
Add the spinach to the sauce pan, and stir, maybe one minute. (If you do use spinach from a frozen package, you can certainly add it – thawed – back at the wine step.)
Here, you can add the chicken to the sauce, and mix for 30 seconds or so, OR you can plate the chicken and pour the sauce over. Since I opted to try two methods of chicken prep, I poured my sauce over each breast on a separate plate. Otherwise, I’d likely do the former, to coat in the sauce into the meat more effectively. (We are doing everything we possibly can to make chicken breast edible here!)
Garnish with fresh parsley, if you have it. (It would have helped the photo, but I’m not driving 30 minutes each way for parsley.) Garnish with the crumbled bacon, too.
Verdict: I can indeed ENJOY, and not just be polite, and eat chicken breast this way.
I like the bacon-wrapped breast better than the avocado-oil treated one, but both were equally tender and juicy.
I even liked the breast bites I took without the sauce/topping, but having a sauce/topping definitely improves most anything.
The sauce/topping was even good by itself. Could go on other things, easily.
Sous vide chicken breast can indeed be done at 160 F (71 C) if you really like the stringiness of conventionally-cooked chicken breast, but just want more inherent juice, since that juice simply doesn’t have a good chance to escape. Neither aspect of conventional chicken breast appeals to me, so I am glad to be able to cook it safely at 148 F (64-65 C) for 2 hours. (Some folk cook it as low as 140 F (60 C), but I decided to push my envelope up a bit.)
While I don’t like counting my chickens before they hatch, I am looking forward to my future poultry morsels!!!
Those breasts were BIG, and this was a lunch, not a dinner. So, I broke all the remaining meat off the bones, combined them with the remaining sauce/topping, and decided they would test out leftover usage…
Primary reference: Serious Eats, one of my favorite foodie websites, but I shopped around. The phone app for the Joule is also a great reference, with useful photos – and you don’t have to buy a Joule sous vide in order to see what you might be making.
For Paleo: Switch the wine out with low sodium chicken broth, home made or otherwise. And go for the coconut milk option over the dairy.