Chicken Breast Sous-vide Temperature Experiment

It’s been a while since I’ve done my last sous-vide temperature experiment. There is one I have been wondering about, and that is chicken breast. I don’t prepare chicken breast often, because I think chicken thighs have better flavor and are less prone to becoming dry. I prefer to cook most meat ‘medium rare’ whenever possible, and for chicken breast that would be cooked to a temperature of 57ºC/135ºF. This is what I have been using, but most other recipes I’ve seen for chicken breast sous-vide, including Modernist Cuisine, use a temperature of 60ºC/140ºF instead. This is what I would call ‘medium’ for chicken breast. Modernist Cuisine states they prefer the texture. And so it was time for another side by side experiment.

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I started with the breast of a free range chicken. Both halves came from the same chicken, so it is a fair experiment.

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I seasoned them with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and vacuum sealed them.

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I refrigerated one and cooked the other sous-vide for 1 hour at 57ºC/135ºF.

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Then I quickly chilled it in (ice) cold water and refrigerated it, while the sous-vide cooker heated up to 60ºC/140ºF for the other chicken breast.

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I cooked that one for 1 hour at 60ºC/140ºF and also chilled and refrigerated it. To try and make the comparison as fair as possible, I chilled both.

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When it was dinner time, I set the water bath to 55ºC/131ºF to warm up the chicken breasts for 20 minutes or so, just enough to warm them through. This temperature will hardly ‘cook’ them any further.

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When they came out of the water bath, only a slight difference could be detected. The 60ºC/140ºF chicken breast was slightly firmer and was slightly ’rounder’ (as in contracted just a bit and had become less flat) than the 57ºC/135ºF chicken breast.

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I patted them dry with paper towels…

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…and browned them quickly over high heat in clarified butter.

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57ºC/135ºF on the left, 60ºC/140ºF on the right

It was not easy to see the difference, but it was possible to taste it. Both were tender and juicy. The 57ºC/135ºF chicken breast was slightly less tender but slightly more juicy. The 60ºC/140ºF chicken breast was slightly less juicy but slightly more tender.

The verdict? I can see why Modernist Cuisine says they prefer the texture at 60ºC/140ºF, but I must say that both are fine and the difference is so small that I don’t think most people would notice it outside of a side by side experiment.

Another advantage of using 60ºC/140ºF is that a shorter cooking time will suffice to achieve pasteurization (20 minutes instead of 33).

7 thoughts on “Chicken Breast Sous-vide Temperature Experiment

  1. That’s really interesting, Stefan! So, you are also a scientist. I wonder why the 135•F was more juicy? The most complex way I prepare chicken is to roast a whole one… and here you are using two different sous vide methods and also searing… :-)

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  2. thank you so much for doing this! Serious Eats recommended 145 so that’s what I’ve been doing. I think I’ll try dropping down to 140 and see the difference. It would also be interesting to see a time experiment at 140 to see the difference at 1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours and 6 hours

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    • There is really no reason to go above 140 degrees for chicken breast. Your time experiment would be interesting. Let me know what you find out! I think the texture may become too soft after 4 hours.

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