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I tried a new chicken soup technique and am not quite thrilled with the results. The point of this technique was to achieve flavorful, tender chicken. Well, the broth is tasty but the chicken is kinda tough and stringy-not awful - but I'm going for tender perfection.

I poached the cut-up whole chicken, starting with cold water, low simmer, etc. Then I removed it from the poaching water, removed the meat from the bone, tore it into small pieces, and refrigerated it. I added the bones and skin back to the poaching water with herbs, and the broth came out great.

The idea was to add the chicken pieces as needed to the broth before serving, but my first bowl reveals the aforementioned tough chicken. Researching chicken soup gives me conflicting answers; some say longer cooking will eventually make the chicken tender, and some say it will make it stringier and dryer.

So do I take some of the broth and simmer the heck out the chicken, or just deal with the toughness and try for something better next time?

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1 Answer

There's several major reasons why meat and poultry can be tough:

  1. Collagen: muscles exist to impart a force between bones, when they contract there must be a connection between that muscle and the bone or the muscle would not be able to do work. Collagen is a strong protein that is distributed throughout a muscle and connects to a tendon, allowing the muscle to distribute its' force to the skeletal structure of the animal. The more load a muscle takes, the more collagen is needed to distribute the force, and the tougher the meat is.
  2. The animal was stressed before slaughter: if the animal was stressed before slaughter it will have lactic acid buildup resulting in tougher meat
  3. Poor treatment after slaughter: Once an animal dies chemical changes happen that toughen the meat, and the correct treatment is needed to allow the meat to relax again. If that isn't done right you'll get tough meat
  4. Freezing and thawing: freezing makes meat and poultry tougher

Collagen breaks down in the presence of heat and moisture, so a long stewing at low temperature could make your chicken tender. The collagen helps make your broth thicker and taster too! That would take a maximum of 2-3 hours on a low simmer. If it isn't tender by then it isn't tough because of collagen and there isn't much you can do. If you've got a chicken that was stressed, not processed correctly, and then frozen there's a limit to how tender you'll be able to get it. You can try cooking it a couple more hours, but if it isn't tender by then it never will be.

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OK! Thanks so much for that! I will try a long simmer and see what happens. It is a supposedly fresh, free range, organic chicken so I would hope it received better treatment than mentioned above... –  Etoile Oct 26 '12 at 16:54
    
Update: 2 hours of simmering made it somewhat better, but, yeah, I think we're working with a losing chicken! Oh well! –  Etoile Oct 26 '12 at 20:01
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