Sous vide chicken

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Joined May 22, 2018
Hey guys,

I've lurked on this forum here and there. As a self taught cook, you guys have really helped me ascend from the depths of grimy pizza kitchens into fine dining. So, first of all, thank you.

I was recently promoted to sous at my current job, and one of my first priorities is changing the least selling dish on our menu.

Currently we only use the sous vide for chicken and sausages. The sausages we move through fairly quickly, and they reheat quickly when cold so no big deal. But the chickens don't sell all the time. When I started they would sometimes sit in the water day after day... I've been trying to pull them like we do the sausages, but I'm not satisfied with the result when I reheat them.

So to all the chefs who sous vide chicken, what is your method? Ice and reheat? Fire a few before service and hope for the best? Fry the sucker? I've done my internet research as best as I can but I still feel like I'm missing something... This is the first time I've used this method professionally, and I really want to start my first month off by fixing the damn chicken!
 
1,841
543
Joined Aug 15, 2003
OK, can we get some more detail about your technique and methods for the chicken. What cut are you using (I assume breast but you didn't say)? What temp are you initially cooking it at? What temp are you holding it at? Are you reheating from cold or just keeping cooked chicken in a sous vide bath all day long? And you say day after day...surely you don't mean you are keeping the SAME chicken breast in the bath day after day?? (I hope not)

I've got some ideas on how to help but I need to know what you do first...
 
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Joined May 22, 2018
Airline chicken breast, circulator set to 130. When I started, yes. Sometimes they would... So I started to take them out, but then they take forever to reheat in the oven and many times do not look great after.
 
1,841
543
Joined Aug 15, 2003
Airline chicken breast, circulator set to 130. When I started, yes. Sometimes they would... So I started to take them out, but then they take forever to reheat in the oven and many times do not look great after.

That wasn't much help, lol. Ok, so they cook it to 130 in the circulator, then leave it in, and then pull when ordered and finish in the pan? Do they take the temp up to 165 after they pull it out of the circulator? If so, what is the point of sous vide I wonder...

Ok, here's my chicken primer for sous vide.

I like to do a 24 hour brine on mine. This is a matter of taste but I like having the chicken seasoned all the way through the meat. I use 2c kosher salt (a pint deli), a handful of fresh thyme, and about a dozen smashed garlic cloves. I measure out a gallon of water and dissolve the salt in this, along with the aromatics. Once the salt is dissolved, I add a gallon of ice water to cool it down rapidly. 2c kosher salt (I use DC), 2 gal water, and aromatics.

It is important to brine the chicken for 24 hours to reach equilibrium. I won't go too much into the science here, but basically if you brine too short a time it can make your meat salty. You have to give the mixture time to reach equilibrium with the salt in the surrounding solution (brine). It will draw in seasoning (salt), flavor from aromatics, and some water as well (helps for juicy chicken).

The next day, remove from brine and pat dry. We package them individually with some schmaltz and a sprig of thyme. We have lots of rendered schmaltz hanging around from the fat caps of chicken stocks. Anyways, seal with fat of choice and herb of choice, and cook at desired temp. I personally cook my chicken breast at 138f for 2 hours.

Most chefs are taught that the only safe temp for chicken is 165f. They think you need to reach this temp in order to kill all the bad stuff that grows on the chicken. What they usually don't know is that pasteurization is a function of temperature over time. So yes, 165 if "instakill" for chicken. This means that pasteurization occurs instantly (or near instantly) at that temp.

So, we can achieve the same level of pasteurization if we extend the time we cook chicken longer even at a lower temp. The time for pasteurization at 138f is about 40 minutes. Keep in mind, this only applies once the core temp reaches that temperature, so the entire chicken breast has to be 138f (core temp) before we start pasteurization. So its not 40 minutes of cooking time, its 40 minutes of time held at that temp. I err on the side of caution, so I go a full 2 hours (more than enough time) to ensure pasteurization, but not long enough to degrade the protein.

This is the type of thing where sous vide really shines because we can achieve the same safety level as traditional roast chicken with the added benefit of lower temps for more tenderness and juiciness.

I cook/chill. So after the 2 hours I go right into an ice bath...after 20-30 minutes take out of bath and store in walk in. Another added benefit of sous vide pasteurization is extended shelf life.

When a customer orders a chicken, I place in a water bath set to 130F for service (always set re-therm bath for lower than original cook temp). I them remove from bag, pat skin side dry and then into a hot saute pan/oil. I use a gentle press weight to make sure skin is in full contact with pan and crisp up the skin. Once skin is crispy, I flip and throw in a few cubes of butter and some thyme. Baste gently, and rest in the pan for a few minutes to even out heat.

The chicken is pretty damn good, if I do say so myself.
 
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Joined May 22, 2018
Hey sorry it's been a long week. Thanks for the reply. I just wanted to know how people who know what they are doing use sous vide.

How long do the chickens have to be back in the water to be warmed through? And why must you reheat them at a lower temp? My instinct was to turn the circulator up for service.
 
1,841
543
Joined Aug 15, 2003
Hey sorry it's been a long week. Thanks for the reply. I just wanted to know how people who know what they are doing use sous vide.

How long do the chickens have to be back in the water to be warmed through? And why must you reheat them at a lower temp? My instinct was to turn the circulator up for service.

Well, I guess you don't need to reheat at a lower temperature. But you don't want the temperature to be above what you cooked the chicken to originally...if that makes sense. And if your target temp is, say, 140f (that is, you cooked your chicken breast at 140f) and if you re-therm to 140, then do a pan finish, you are likely to overshoot the original temp of 140.

I set my water bath to 130 in order to re-therm beef, chicken, pork, lamb and to cook fish. I can do all this in one water bath set to one temp. This temp is lower than I would cook all those proteins so I don't have to worry about overcooking anything on the re-therm. I hope this makes sense.

Depending on the size of your breasts they would take about 20 mins. I personally take mine out of the bag, pat dry the skin side, and roast in a saute pan (I usually use a light grill press to help press skin down) until skin is brown, rendered and crispy. I then flip and add some butter/garlic/thyme to the pan and kind of let the chicken rest in the butter for a couple mins. This heats the underside and allows the heat to penetrate the meat but not get too hot i.e. overcook.
 

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