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Perfect fried chicken is the Great White Whale in my kitchen. It seems I've tried everything, well almost everything, I have not tried sous-vide.

I'm still on the fence as to whether I'm going to invest in a immersion circulator, and this experiment could put me over the edge, one way or another.

I can reasonably approximate sous-vide in my rice maker by switching it on and off and using my digital thermometer. It actually works pretty well, I can stay within about 5-7 degrees F my target temperature without too much trouble as long as it's not for an obscenely long time. 4-5 Hours is probably my upper limit.

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I'm planning on doing roughly this: ChefSteps (thanks @moscafj for the link).

I'm using thighs, and they're big suckers. I prefer thighs cooked quite bit more than other pieces. Should I up the temperature? How much?

Secondly, I have historically found thighs to be extremely forgiving. How much of a temperature range can I allow? Say I'm aiming for 155F (68C). Can I let my rice cooker go until it reaches 160F, turn it off, and then turn it back on at 150F? Over and over again?

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    I have about 3kg of on-the-bone belly pork, and 1kg of pork cheek confit (fat rendered from the skin of the belly after making crackling) in my circulator at the moment. Conclusion: get a circulator :P dropbox.com/s/tcdpvslh61gjn49/4kg-of-pork.jpg – Ming Aug 14 '14 at 1:30
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I think your temperature range is good. 155 to 160 is a good place for thighs. You will need an hour to an hour and a half. As long as you don't drop into the danger zone you will be fine. You could just check a thigh with a probe thermometer at the end of an on-off session to see where the temp is. Sounds like a bit of a pain, but certainly doable. One caution...that looks like a small pot. If you are doing more than one or two thighs, you will crowd the bag and might not achieve even cooking...this could create a danger if the center of the package did not reach 140. Advice: Get a circulator! If you enjoy eggs, for example, the price is worth egg cookery alone, in my opinion. :-)

By the way, while many people prefer this route toward fried chicken, I actually have had the best success with, and prefer Keller's Ad Hoc recipe.

  • Thanks for your response! I actually plan to do six thighs, all individually wrapped, and to stir each time I hit 160F. I had expected that to take at least 4 hours. Are you saying I can complete it in 1.5? Can you provide a link to Keller's recipe? – Jolenealaska Aug 13 '14 at 15:02
  • 4 hrs seems long. Check temp after 1.5, you might degrade texture after 2 hrs. foodandwine.com/recipes/lemon-brined-fried-chicken – moscafj Aug 13 '14 at 16:33
  • 4 hours is an entirely reasonable time for sous vide cooking. Since you're cooking and holding only up to a relatively low temperature in a sealed environment, the risk of overcooking is minimal. Checking their internal temperature is impossible without breaching the bag so it's generally best to over-shoot on time. – logophobe Aug 13 '14 at 21:00
  • Technically true, but texture of proteins changes with time. One may not enjoy the texture of chicken after 4 hours, but it is perfectly safe – moscafj Aug 13 '14 at 22:09
  • I'm not talking about safety, though that is a factor. If properly held at that temperature the meat should be nicely done and very tender. I personally would enjoy it very much. – logophobe Aug 13 '14 at 23:45
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I say resist the temptation to up the temperature. Some other questions here suggest no higher than 60ºC (140ºF) for sous vide chicken in order to best preserve the texture. Granted, that's for breast meat, and thighs will be more forgiving, but you've also conservatively got about 10ºF variance around your target temp. I'd say stick with the recommended 65ºC (149ºF, call it 150ºF) given in your linked resource. If you're confident that you can maintain a variance of less than 10ºF, this will juuust keep you out of the danger zone, and will keep you from accidentally getting too high above the target.

You don't want the sous vide too high because you'll be frying these immediately afterward; by the time you get a nice crust, the internal temp will easily make it up to the USDA's safe minimum if not several degrees higher. If you prefer them more well-done, it's much easier to adjust your fry technique than it is the sous vide. Undercook them, and you can fry them a little longer to compensate; go too long, and you're screwed if you want to get a nice crispy crust with a juicy interior.

That all said, I quite like @moscafj's suggestion of skipping the sous vide if you don't have a proper circulator, and using another recipe instead (Keller does it well, although I think I've used a slightly different version, out of the Ad Hoc book). Switching a rice cooker on and off manually for 4 hours sounds like a real chore. If so inclined, you could hack together a DIY immersion circulator, and/or use the PID controller to turn the rice cooker on and off for you.

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Dark meat should be cooked to at least 165°F to break down the connective tissues. I usually shoot for 170°F. White meat is marvelous at a considerably lower temperature as already mentioned. That is why cooking them separately is highly recommended. Finish off your meat under the broiler or on a grill to give it a better flavor, but use a high heat and a short cook time so you do not raise the inside temp much. If it was sous vide cooked to perfection, then you can shock cool the meat a few minutes in ice water before finishing it off on the grill or under the broiler to prevent overcooking the interior.

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I cook chicken thighs sous vide at 65°C for 90-120 minutes and they come out entirely suitable to my taste. I could probably go a little cooler, actually. I don't think you want to go super long because the meat becomes very mushy and unpleasant when you overcook it - remember, this kind of cookery doesn't overcook with temperature but with time, although usually quite substantial amounts of it. Four hours might be too long though - I've never done thighs for longer than two.

So you should be fine with two hours with your setup, maybe three, provided you don't let the temperature get too low at any point. Going over risks drying out the meat more than your target temperature would usually do it, but I don't see that a 10°F range is likely to be much of a problem. The reason sous vide is so popular now is not so much because you couldn't do it before as because doing it precisely enough is a real pain in the whatsit.

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