Food Safety

I read an article recently that addressed when you should wash your food. I agree with most of the advice – wash anything you’re going to eat raw, and I rinse rice, grains and beans before cooking. The latter has more to do with the way I cook than the cleanliness of the product, but for most foods, a quick rinse won’t hurt.

I disagree, however, with the advice on chicken. Not necessarily the part about washing; the advice is not to do it, because in the process you’re more likely to spread bacterial throughout your kitchen and since you’re cooking the bird it’s not really necessary.

My complaint is with the continued belief that we should cook chicken and other poultry to 165 degrees. That remains the USDA guideline, and it’s what you’ll hear from a lot of sources. To be clear, it’s not unsafe to cook your chicken to that temperature. It’s the temperature at which harmful bacteria are killed instantly.

But that’s the issue. The USDA guidelines are designed to be idiot proof. I’m not sure there is such a thing, but assuming you’re not an idiot you don’t need to bring a bird to that temperature to be safe. That’s because if you cook poultry to a lower temperature, you can still achieve the same result with regard to bacteria if you keep it at the proper temperature for some period of time. How much time depends on the temperature.

From what I’ve researched, if you bring the temperature of poultry to 150 degrees, you’ll have the same result as the higher temperature in about 3 minutes. If you cook it to 145 degrees, you’ll need to keep it there for about 10 minutes to get the same result you’ll get instantly at 165.

The difference is that if you cook a chicken until the internal temperature is 165 degrees, you’re likely going to have dry and unpalatable meat, at least where the breasts are concerned. It’s true that the “dark” meat of a chicken should be cooked to a higher temperature than the “white” meat, but principally because the bones in the legs and thighs keep the meat at a lower temperature for longer, and because there’s more collagen in the dark meat – legs particularly – which takes longer to break down.

My usual solution is to cook white and dark meat separately, but if I’m going to roast a chicken, the way I do it is to spatchcock it before cooking. That means cutting out the backbone and laying the chicken flat in a roasting pan, and spreading the leg/thigh portions out so that their surface area increases and they’re closer to the edge of the pan. That allows heat to more readily enter the meat.

I am not a food safety expert, so please use common sense when you cook. If you prefer to use the USDA guidelines, more power to you. Just don’t invite me to dinner if you’re cooking poultry.



Categories: Haute Plates