I love the America’s Test Kitchen show (http://www.americastestkitchen.com/) on public television because there is always something new to learn from the “Cooking Engineering” side of it. In one of the last episodes they showed a different way to boil chicken breasts which intrigued me a lot and I was eager to duplicate that very method for My Chef Lara.
America’s Test Kitchen’s approach was to have 4 pcs 6-8 ounce boneless skinless chicken breasts (no more than 1 inch thick) submerged in 6 cups of COLD water (add two tablespoons of salt to it) and then heat it over medium heat inside of a Dutch oven until the water registers 170 degrees. Then turn off the heat, cover the pot and let stand until chicken registers 165 degrees after approximately 15 to 17 minutes.
They claim that the chicken breast will be fully cooked and not be dried out and ready for further treatment at that time. Their “easy mock sous vide method guarantees supremely tender, juicy chicken”.
Sounds really simple, doesn’t it?
So I prepared my Dutch oven, salted the water had my 4 pcs of chicken breasts which were not thicker than 1 inch and started the process. When the thermometer read 170 degrees and started beeping, I removed the Dutch oven from the heat covered it, and let it stand for 15 minutes and then I checked the temperature inside the chicken breasts, BUT it was only around 130 degrees and the water was already cooled down to around 150 degrees. Hm, with water colder than 165 and chicken not yet at 165 there was no way in my engineering mind that by waiting any longer the chicken would get to the desired temperature. First trial run: negative
My engineering mind was thinking what might have gone wrong and I came to the conclusion that the time it took to heat up the Dutch oven to 170 degrees was not adequate (i.e. too short). I realized that I had set it to high (my error) heat and that was definitely too fast and the interior of the chicken was not yet at a temperature which allowed it to get to 165 degrees after the Dutch oven was removed from the heat.
In my next trial I set the heat to a temperature which was between medium and medium low and repeated the process and guess what: it almost worked perfectly. It took approximately 20 minutes from room temperature to get to 170 degrees. Then rather than removing the pot from the heat, I just turned the electric heat off and put a cover on. After 15 minutes the chicken did register 165 degrees and I was happy. The Waldorf salad I made from these chicken breasts also came out very good. Second trial run: SUCCESS!
The above diagram shows the water temperatures during the two tests and the resulting internal chicken temperatures. Note: chicken should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees or higher.
So the key to cooking the chicken to the correct temperature is increasing the time it takes to initially heat up the water and the chicken inside the Dutch oven and not just heat it up and then hope for the best. The whole procedure to correctly cook the chicken takes approximately 35 minutes and you need a thermometer to check the temperatures, other than that it is simple.