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So far I've attempted it twice. The first time I cooked legs and thighs at 60C for an hour and a half; the second time I cooked two breasts at 60C for about 45 minutes. Both times the chicken came out really tough, and the muscle was really stringy. I assume this means I didn't cook the chicken long enough, am I correct? If so, how long should I be cooking the chicken, and at what temperature?

EDIT: I meant stringy, not sinewy as I had said previously.

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how did you package the chicken? I find that when vacuum packaging chicken for sous-vide you can get "too" tight and it can create a texture like your describing above. I ease up on the vacuum a bit, basically just remove enough air so that the bag won't float and you should be good to go. Give that a try and see if that makes a difference for you. –  Brendan Jan 29 '13 at 16:30

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

You cooked it at too low a temperature.

Sous vide is intended for meat where you want the protein to remain tender. It shouldn't have any sinews. Think chicken breasts, or the long filet along the spine of a pig. This meat gets nicely cooked at 60-65°C (depends on the animal), and tough and dry above that.

Meat marbled with sinews has to be cooked at a temperature where the sinews (collagen) melt into gelatin. This happens at about 70°C at least, and takes hours. Since the muscle fibres are already toughened at that temperature, there is no reason to hold it low; you can put it at full boil in a normal pot and cook it there, you just have to wait long enough. In theory, you could do it in a sous vide bath too, but you won't get any of the benefits sous vide gives to tender meat.

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Sorry, I used the wrong term: by sinewy, I meant stringy. Does the "too low a temperature" issue still hold? –  TSL Aug 6 '12 at 16:32
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Yes, for chicken thighs, it holds. I can't currently think of an online ressource with a list of meats meant for sous vide, but the rule of thumb is, if you can throw it into a pan for 3-4 minutes and have it ready, it is good for sous vide. If you normally stew it, it is not. –  rumtscho Aug 6 '12 at 16:40
    
...I always throw my chicken thighs into a pan for a few minutes. Granted, I chop them into smaller chunks first, but even whole I never have to stew them. –  Yamikuronue Aug 6 '12 at 20:24
    
There's plenty of recipes for cooking stewing cuts sous vide at temperatures far below 70°C but it is generally done to cook these cuts medium rare whilst still being very tender: for a meat like beef it involves cooking for 48-72 hours because at such low temperatures it takes far longer for collagen to convert to gelatin. –  Stefano Aug 8 '12 at 9:08

Sous Vide is good for all meats - Even chicken tigh.

Go for 65 C for 70 min and sear 2-3 min in a hot pan.

Sous Vide works great for tender meat - But it works even better for tougher meats!

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While I don't have much experience cooking thigh meat sous-vide, I have been doing chicken breast a lot for the last 18 months...

I find 58C (136F) for 2.5+ hours to give the best results. I experimented with 60 and 62C for a little while but found that there is considerable moisture loss once you get above 60. Longer cooking times don't matter much; I've forgotten about the meat on more than one occasion and left it overnight (8-9 hours?) with no adverse impact on the final product. I personally found chicken breast after 24 hours unappealing, but my partner liked it - I would describe the texture as 70% meat, 30% cake? I would avoid shorter times though - 2.5 hours is usually well inside the safe margins according to Doug Baldwin's models.

However the biggest (positive) difference in the result has been from switching meat suppliers, and in a literally eye-opening way too: Organic chicken breast makes for a significantly nicer result every single time!

We actually did blind testing across multiple batches of meat and across several weeks, and found we could pick the organic chicken with 100% accuracy. There are differences between even organic suppliers, but in general the stringiness was gone, the meat cut in straight lines without tearing or shredding along muscle fibres, and it was noticeably more moist and juicy.

I suspect that the difference comes largely from better quality feed and the fact that the animals tend to be (at least in Australia) slower-growing breeds and ~50% older when slaughtered, thus have more time to develop more flavourful muscles.

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