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Chicken is one of the easiest types of food to overcook... and dry, bland chicken breast is such a waste of food. Using sous vide allows you to safely cook it at a much lower temperature than you can through traditional means and the moist, tender result is one of my favorite sous vide meals.
My preferred sous vide chicken temperature is 140°F (60.0°C) for white meat and 148°F (64°C) for dark meat like sous vide chicken thighs. Some people prefer their white meat as low as 135°F (57°C) or as high as 150°F (65.6°C).
Regardless of which time of meat you cook, it is usually best to pasteurize your chicken. I cook most dark meat for 4 to 6 hours, which more than pasteurizes it, but for sous vide chicken breasts I just cook it for the minimum pasteurization time.
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 Is Sous Vide Safe, 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:
Overcooked, bland, and dried out chicken is a common cooking stereotype for a reason. With practice it is possible to cook chicken perfectly using traditional methods but it is always a fine line between perfect and overcooked. Using sous vide always results in uniformly tender chicken that is very moist.
Unlike some other ingredients where sous vide can radically change the ingredient, cooking chicken meat sous vide is mainly an act of convenience and consistency. The exception to this are sous vide chicken eggs, which can achieve textures not possible to get with traditional methods.
First fully cooking the chicken sous vide, then applying and cooking the coating removes the guess work of trying to ensure the chicken is cooked through at the exact moment the coating turns nice and crispy. This also works great with sous vide chicken wings.
I'm not a big fan of doing this, but there are ways you can sous vide a whole chicken. Cooking at the top range of moist white meat and the bottom of the dark meat range, around 148ºF will result in a uniformly tender and moist bird.
It is also better a butterflied or spatchcocked chicken instead of a whole one. This is because the cavity in a whole chicken will trap air and heat much slower. If you do use a whole chicken, it is worthwhile to increase the cooking time by an hour or two to compensate.
Due to the moisture present in sous vide cooking chicken skin that was in the pouch can not really be made as crispy as when it is cooked in the oven. The best solution to this is to take it off of the bird before cooking the meat sous vide.
As you get close to serving time, you can manually crispy the chicken skin. There are many methods that work, using a hot skillet with a little oil is normally quick. You can also brown it on a baking sheet in the oven set to 375ºF but make sure you use one with raised edges.
I go into a lot more details in my article on how to get crispy skin with sous vide.
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All should be pasteurized by thickness
Not recommended, but if you do try to spatchcock it to remove the air pocket or it could harbor bacteria during the cooking process. For all temperatures it should be pasteurized by thickness.