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I love a sous vide chicken breast, they are so much more tender and juicy than ones that have been traditionally cooked. I prefer my chicken breasts cooked at 140°F (60°C) until pasteurized, but they are safe as low as 136°F (57.8°C), and some people like them as high as 150°F (65.5°C). It usually take 2 to 3 hours.
Chicken breasts are one of my favorite foods to make, especially when I use sous vide. Sous vide chicken is so much more moist and tender than when it is traditionally cooked.
Because of the longer cooking times, you can safely cook chicken at much lower temperatures than you can if you grill or pan fry it. This is because sous vide pasteurization occurs over time, so you can go with lower temperatures. I go into this in more detail in the Why Are Sous Vide Chicken Breasts Safe?
I prefer my chicken breasts cooked at 140°F (60°C) for 2 to 4 hours. They are safe as low as 136°F (57.8°C) but then they are a little too raw-tasting for me. Some people like them as high as 147°F (64°C) but I find them a little too dry for my taste. At any temperature, they just need to be cooked long enough to pasteurize them by thickness.
I go back and forth about whether I sear the chicken breast after sous viding it. It can be hard to get any browning without over cooking it, but it also looks much nicer when seared. If I'm using the breast as the centerpiece of the dish, I usually end up searing it, but if it's just for me I'll just eat it straight from the bag.
Due to the moisture present in sous vide cooking any skin that was in the pouch can struggle to become crispy. The best solution to this is to take it off of the bird before cooking the meat sous vide and then before serving crisp it in a 375ºF oven. When I'm feeling lazy I'll just sear it for a little longer after sous vide and the skin is adequate for a normal meal.
Once the chicken is cooked, you can use it in a variety of different ways. I love using it on salad, in soups, or even breaded and fried!
Chicken breasts are an inherently tender meat so they usually just need to be cooked long enough to be pasteurized by thickness. This usually takes 2 to 3 hours for a standard sous vide chicken breast, but the pasteurization tables will give you specifics based on the thickness and the temperature you use. Lower temperatures take longer to paseurize.
Because they are already tender, sous vide chicken breasts do not benefit from the very long cooking times that sous vide allows. After about 4 or 5 hours the meat begins to get too tender and takes on a slightly mushy texture. It's definitely not ruined, and in a pinch I've gone 8 or 10 hours, but it just loses much of the spring that makes chicken tasty.
Compared to traditionally cooked chicken breasts, with sous vide you have a lot more options for the temperature you want to use. You can drop the temperature pretty low and still be safe, but most people don't go below 136°F (57.8°C).
After experimenting a lot over the years, I've settled on 140°F (60°C) as the best sous vide chicken breast temp for my preferences. It is still super juicy, but it tastes like a "cooked" texture to me. Some people prefer a few degrees higher, just to ensure the texture is even more "cooked" tasting. I'll also use a slightly higher temperature if I am going to be serving it cold, such as in my Curried Sous Vide Chicken Salad or even occassionally my Sous Vide Chicken and Avocado Bowl.
For a more traditional texture, people will go as high as 150°F or 160°F (65°C to 71°C). This is much closer to the temperatures used when grilling or pan frying chicken.
However, I highly recommend keeping the temperature at or below 154°F (68°C). Above that temperature the meat starts to really squeeze out a lot more moisture and will be significantly drier. The only potential exception is if you want to have shredded chicken breasts, then the higher temperatures will break down the chicken more and might be worth the tradeoff.
The main benefit of sous vide chicken is the ability to create a perfectly cooked chicken breast with very little effort and allowing you to cook chicken to lower temperatures than would be safe using traditional techniques.
This can result in chicken with a different texture when cooked below 140ºF and chicken that is much more moist when cooked below 154°F (68°C). This is because water loss speeds up the hotter the meat gets, so keeping the temperature of the chicken below 154°F (68°C) slows down the loss of moisture.
I also love to use sous vide before parties to fully cook the chicken breasts, then I can reheat them on the grill during the party. I don't have to worry about making anyone sick, the chicken always turns out amazing, and I'm free from standing over the grill and worrying the whole time!
Of course! Like most types of food you can sous vide frozen chicken breasts directly from the freezer, there is no reason to defrost them. My sous vide pasteurization charts don't take frozen chicken into account, but it usually adds on an extra 30 to 60 minutes.
The only downside to sous viding frozen chicken breasts is that they are more prone to floating. I usually err on the side of caution and use something to prevent the bags from floating, usually some magnets or clips.
If you want to either save your chicken breasts for later or serve them cold, then you can chill them in the bag. I usually use the 3-step sous vide chilling method.
This entails taking the bag out of the water bath and letting it rest for about 10 minutes. Then I put it into cold tap water for another 10 to 20 minutes. If i want to ensure it is very cold to maximize the safety, I'll then put it into an ice bath (half water and half ice) until it is fully chilled.
You can then safely store the sous vide chicken breasts in the refrigerator for a week or two, still in their pouches.
Sous vide also works great at reheating chicken breasts. Just make sure you don't heat the chicken above the original temperature you sous vided it at. I'll usually use a temperature 10 to 15 degrees lower so I can give it a longer sear.
There are several other options for reheating sous vided foods, including searing them back to temperature or chopping them up and quickly reheating them in a sauce or soup.
Some people don't like the texture of cooked and chilled sous vide chicken breasts, but I eat it for a lot of my weekly lunches and I love it!
When people think of "overcooking" they often equate it to temperature. That's because on a grill or in an oven, if you let it go too long the temperature rises too high.
From this angle, you can't overcook chicken breasts with sous vide, because the temperature of the meat will never go above the temperature of the water bath.
However, with sous vide, the longer you cook something the more tender it becomes. While this sounds like a benefit (and it usually is!), for already tender items like chicken breasts, sous vide filet mignon, or sous vide pork chops the additional cooking time can start to have a negative effect.
One of the things that makes food "tasty" is the texture of the meat. And cooking it too long will result in a mushy texture with none of that bounce or "snap" that makes most meat appealing. So yes, you can overcook sous vide chicken breasts, it's just in a different way than with traditional cooking.
This process does take a while though, so if your chicken is done after 2 hours it'll still be fine for another 2 or 3, and then it'll slowly get more and more tender. I've gone 10 hours before and it was still fine, just not nearly as good as it normally is.
People are often very confused when they start using sous vide because of the low temperatures a lot of the food is cooked at. It's important to realize that it's just as safe at these temperatures (assuming you are not in the sous vide danger zone!) as it is at higher temperature, as long as you cook it for long enough.
The safety of food is not just based on the temperature, but also the time. With traditional cooking it is so hard to maintain a set temperature so most of us have grown up ignoring the time aspect of the equation. But for something like sous vide chicken breasts safety, once it is heated to a specific temperature it will become pasteurized and safe to eat when held at:
Note: To be clear, these are the figures from the exact same FDA report that is usually quoted for 165°F for food safety. You can get more details from Douglas Baldwin
This is why most sources say you have to cook chicken breasts to 165°F...because at that temperature it is pasteurized in just a few seconds. So as long as it hits that, everything is killed right away.
But with sous vide we can hold the chicken breasts at a lower temperature for a long enough time to pasteurize it the exact same amount. So enjoy your low-temp sous vide chicken breasts with the knowledge you are still being just as safe as normal!
The process for making a sous vide chicken breast is just about the easiest one there is.
First take the chicken breast and salt it or apply a spice rub or sauce.
Place it in a sous vide bag and seal the bag. If you don't have a vacuum sealer you can always use ziploc bags for sous vide.
Heat the waterbath to your desired temperature. I prefer 140°F (60°C), you there are many sous vide chicken breast temperatures you can use.
Place the chicken breast in the waterbath and cook until pasteurized by thickness, usually 2 to 3 hours, but it'll be fine up to 4 or 5 hours.
Once pasteurized, you can either chill the sous vided chicken and save for later, or use it now. When you are ready to eat, remove it from the sous vide bag and dry it off thoroughly.
If you are searing it, heat a pan over high heat and add the chicken breast. Cook it for 30 to 45 seconds, flip it, cook for another 30 to 45 seconds, and then repeat the process once more.
You are then ready to eat your perfectly cooked sous vide chicken breast!
Like most sous vided foods, chicken breasts are better with a sear, especially when you are serving them whole or as the main protein. Unseared chicken really isn't that appetizing.
That said, if I'm using it in a dish, especially once with a sauce or for my regular weekly lunches then I'm honestly too lazy most of the time to sear it! It still turns out really well and I don't notice a huge difference.
So if you want to maximize the appearance and taste, then you should definitley sear your sous vide chicken breast, but if you are short on time or just using it for yourself, it's not a huge loss.
I personally never brine my food, except for my sous vide fish. I go into a lot of reasons in my article should you brine sous vide food, but in general the meat is already so juicy and moist, that adding more moisture is almost a negative.
This is definitely personal preference, so if you love to brine you chicken breasts, go right ahead and give it a shot, you may love it! But for me, I think the end result is better without a brine, and it saves me the time of needing to brine it. So a win-win in my book!
Crispy skin is always a big concern, and I get it, I'm a huge fan of crispy chicken skin! With sous vide you can still get it crispy, but not like many traditional methods. The best thing to do if you really want crisp skin is to take it off the breast before sous viding it.
I go into a lot more detail about how to get crispy chicken skin, but removing it and then baking it in the oven or pan frying it separately will result is skin that is still pretty dang good, and can be very unique!
People are very split on whether or not sous viding with the bone in makes a difference. For chicken breasts, the bones and skin do seem to add some flavor during the cooking process, but I haven't found the difference to be huge. So if you prefer boneless chicken breasts, go right ahead and use them, they will still turn out great!
Chicken breasts that are coated are notoriously difficult to cook properly. It's hard to time the browning of the coating and cooking of the chicken to happen all at the same time, which is why most fried chicken like chicken piccatta, chicken parm, or chicken schnitzel is pounded thin.
But using sous vide to pre-cook the chicken breast let you to focus on the browning of the coating without worrying about the chicken itself. This lets you use thicker chicken if you want, and fry at hotter temperaures.
When I'm going to fry the chicken afterwards, I tend to go on the lower side temperature wise, usually around 138°F to 140°F (58°C to 60°C). That way the post sous vide frying will bring it up to an ideal temperature.
I went into this a little bit more in my article on how to sous vide schnitzel.
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Do you have experience cooking breast? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Looking for more chicken? Check out the sous vide chicken time and temperatures for all the sous vide information you need.
Here are several of the Chicken Breast recipes that I recommend trying out.
Owen asked Jason: Why Does My Sous Vide Chicken Roulade Come Out Stringy?
I haven't done any chicken roulade, but I've made a decent amount of turkey roulade which is pretty similar and I've cooked a whole lot of chicken breasts. I'm not sure if you were using white meat or dark meat in the roulade or what sous vide temperature you used.