This article is a part of my free Exploring Sous Vide email course. If you want to discover how to consistently create amazing food using sous vide then my course is exactly what you're looking for. For a printed version of this course, you can purchase my Exploring Sous Vide cookbook.
The next type of food I wanted to cover in the Exploring Sous Vide course is chicken, turkey, and other poultry. I think sous vide transforms chicken and turkey breasts more than just about any other type of meat. They turn out so much more moist and tender than their traditional counterparts, in large part because you can cook them at a lower temperature.
In this lesson I'll show you how to get the most out of your sous vide chicken, turkey and other poultry.
Different places have different definitions of what poultry is. In this lesson I'm using it generically to refer to most birds such as chicken and turkey as well as duck, goose, quail, Cornish game hens, squab, and game birds such as pheasants.
From a basic culinary perspective, there are two main types of poultry. I generally break them down by how their breast meat behaves and is cooked.
The first is birds with dense breast meat that is more like beef or other red meat. This would include duck and goose. In this article I'll refer this type of poultry as "medium rare poultry" because the breast meat is traditionally cooked medium rare.
The second type of poultry is those with lighter, less dense breast meat. This includes chicken, turkey, and quail. In this article I'll refer this type of poultry as "well done poultry" because the breast meat is traditionally cooked to higher temperatures.
Even though both types of breast meat are treated differently, most of the dark meat is cooked the same regardless of the type of poultry.
White and dark meat are generally cooked at different temperatures so it's often best to cook them separately.
My best-selling Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide also explores these items in much more detail.
A major concern with cooking chicken and poultry is ensuring that it is safe to eat. Traditionally, this meant cooking most chicken to at least 150°F or 165°F (65.5°C to 73.8°C). As we discussed in the lesson on Sous Vide Safety, you can achieve the same safety levels through extended cooking at lower temperatures. This allows you to enjoy much juicier poultry than you normally would.
Once Heated, chicken and other poultry are pasteurized by cooking it at:
Warning: One concern is pathogens that might be present in wild or game birds. If you are eating wild animals, cooked traditionally or with sous vide, you should make yourself aware of the pathogens and what temperatures are needed to kill them.
When preparing sous vide poultry, you have a lot of options on how to approach it before you put it in the sous vide bag.
Many people prefer skinless and boneless poultry and it works fine with sous vide. That said, if it is cooked with the skin on and bone still in it does add additional flavor to the end result as well as making it easier to sear for a little longer.
Most poultry is simply seasoned with salt and pepper or a dry rub. Herbs or lemon are also good additions to the sous vide pouch.
Brining is not required with sous vide poultry and it generally doesn't have much of an affect on the final dish. That said, for some preparations such as duck confit, the meat can first be cured in a dry rub to firm up the meat and introduce other flavors.
As mentioned above, when cooking breast meat it's easiest to break it into "Well Done" poultry like chicken, turkey, or quail and "Medium Rare" poultry like duck and goose.
The two main considerations when cooking white meat from chicken or other birds usually cooked to a "well-done" temperature is safety and texture.
When cooking white meat you want to make sure you cook it long enough to pasteurize it. This can be done at any temperature above 130°F (54.4°C) though chicken is usually cooked above 136°F (57.7°C). My Sous Vide Pasteurization Times for Chicken will give you specific times needed to pasteurize at several different temperatures.
So now that we've established that any temperature above 130°F (54.4°C) can be safe to eat, what temperature should you actually use? It really depends on your personal preference but my go-to temperature is 141°F (60.5°C).
White meat cooked at the lowest temperatures has a very unique texture. It's still very "raw" feeling and a little slimy. Some people really enjoy it but most people, especially those looking for a "normal" chicken breast, can't stand it.
Once you get around 137°F (58.3°C) the poultry starts to take on a "cooked" texture. The meat starts to firm up and dry out slightly, which in most people's opinion is a good thing. The higher the temperature used, the firmer and drier the meat becomes.
I've found 141°F (60.5°C) to be the sweet spot for me between maintaining a lot of moisture while still really tasting like a "normal" chicken breast. Most, if not all, of the pink color is gone and the breast is uniformly firm but tender.
For some people that's still too low of a temperature and they prefer their breast cooked at around 145°F (62.2°C). The chicken is less juicy but still more tender than most traditionally cooked breasts.
For a completely "normal" breast, you can cook it at 150°F to 160°F (65.5°C to 71.1°C) and it'll still be better than most regularly cooked chicken, though not nearly as moist or tender as the lower temperatures. Serious Eats looked at the amount of juice loss at different temperatures and discovered a chicken breast loses more than twice as much moisture at 150°F (65.5°C) than it does at 140°F (60°C).
If you are cooking a bird that you normally would eat at a temperature besides well-done, you don't necessarily have to pasteurize it. If you would traditionally feel comfortable eating it at a lower temperature, then you just need to heat it through to the temperature you prefer.
Of course, with sous vide you can still pasteurize it at any temperature above 130°F (54.4°C) and that's usually what I do to be on the safe side.
For tender cuts of duck and goose like the breast, I cook them just enough to heat them through and pasteurize them at a medium-rare temperature. This normally takes 2 to 3 hours for temperatures from 129°F to 135°F (53.8°C to 57.2°C). I tend to use 131°F (55°C) when I cook it, though if you prefer medium then you'd probably like it cooked around 140°F (60°C).
Most dark meat in poultry, such as chicken thighs and duck legs, is treated similarly to each other. You can either cook them to be tender, like a typical seared or roasted thigh or you can cook them to be shreddable, like confit duck legs.
The temperature used to create tender dark meat is usually between 141°F up to 156°F (60.6°C to 68.9°C). I personally like 148°F (64.4°C) the best because I think it delivers the best mix of texture and juiciness. Most dark meat doesn't need to be tenderized much, if at all, so the time range is typically 2 to 5 hours to fully pasteurize them.
For shreddable dark meat, the range goes much higher but is often between 145°F to 170°F (62.7°C to 76.7°C). I usually split the difference and use 165°F (73.9°C). They are cooked longer as well to allow for more breakdown, usually for 8 to 12 hours, or even longer at the lower end of the temperature range.
Finishing poultry is usually done by drying it really well, salting it and then searing it. This gives it a much more appealing look and adds a lot of great flavor.
You can sear it however you are most comfortable but I generally pan fry it or grill it. Using a torch can also be effective for some cuts of poultry but I generally stick to pan frying.
For certain preparations, such as fried chicken or turkey piccata, you can also coat the sous vided meat before pan frying or deep frying it.
Whatever method you use, you will want to sear it very quickly to prevent it from overcooking any more than is necessary. You can read more about How to Sear After Sous Vide.
I love sous vide poultry and here are a few of my favorite recipes. My best-selling Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide also has many more recipes for you to explore.
In this lesson we discussed how to sous vide chicken. We discussed the two types of poultry as far as cooking is concerned and I shared some of my favorite poultry recipes.
Do you know anyone that is struggling with sous vide and would find this information helpful? Why not do them a favor and send them a link to this Exploring Sous Vide email course or get them a printed version of this course!
Thanks again and happy cooking!
Jason Logsdon, Amazing Food Made Easy