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Old 10-11-2014, 09:09 AM   #1
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How do they make chicken so tender?

When we eat out either at olive garden, macaronni grill, carabba's, and order the chicken, it's always so tender, to where you can almost pull it apart. Are they doing something to the chicken to make it that tender, or is it just the way it's cooked? Last night my wife had chicken marsalla, and it just fell apart.

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Old 10-11-2014, 09:47 AM   #2
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If yours isn't coming out so tender (assuming you're not trying to cook up the old rooster), most tough chicken problems are from inattention to temperature, overcooking. There are two issues. One is making the piece of chick equally thick throughout. Chicken goes from just right to real wrong in a very short time. You're aiming at 160F throughout, but if it's thick in one part and thin in another, you can't get one part right without getting the other underdone or overdone. You get it evenly thick by pounding it, which also somewhat tenderizes. But the main thing is to make it evenly thick.

Then, of course, you have to hit the 160F pretty close, without going over and overcooking it and making it tough. That's the so-called safe temperature for chicken. So you need an accurate meat thermometer. Remove the chicken when it hits 160F internally. Don't just turn the fire off or remove the pan from the stove.

I don't know how that restaurant operates, but a lot of restaurant cooking is done sous vide, low temperature, in vacuum sealed bags, in a water bath. In sous vide, the reality that tenderness and doneness are entirely different things comes home. You can take a meat, say chicken, to 160F in a sous vide water bath, and it will be done and will never get hotter and so will never get overdone. (You can really see this with beef, where beef in a 125F bath will be medium rare and stay medium rare, even if left in for hours.)

Tenderness is a matter of cooking time. (Unless the meat is already tender, like filet.) You can make a tough cut tender and still rare by loooong cooking at low temperature. Slow cookers work that way, except that the temperature is so high that all the meat comes out well done. The point is that a restaurant can prep chicken cuts in a sous vide bath well ahead of time. They won't have to pound, either, because the bath will be 160F, and that's as hot as the meat can get. If they want a piece, they fetch it out and use it or put grill marks on it. They just can't leave it in there as long a they do some beef, because it will start to fall apart. But it's very efficient, and it kind of explains some of why you can get a steak so quickly in some places.

Just a note. Brining, marinating, etc. do not tenderize. Marinades penetrate only a tiny fraction of an inch. Brining uses salt to move water around, and moist is not the same a tender. It's just that people who bother to brine are also generally more careful cooks and done overcook.

All that said, some of the restaurants you named are said to do their cooking from frozen boil-in-bags of precooked food, and they are all in the class of place I would suspect of doing so. This is not sous vide. It's boil-in-bag like you buy in the store. Check Yelp and try a real Italian restaurant near you. Why pay even cut-rate restaurant prices for frozen entrees? The chains simply cannot afford real cooking by real chefs. The Tuscany chef training is an advertising myth. Note that the brand new Italian Garden parent company CEO commented that he knew changes were in order when he learned they didn't salt the water for cooking pasta. He may have misunderstood. They don't need to salt the water if the pasta is precooked in a bag.
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Old 10-11-2014, 10:17 AM   #3
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Thanks for taking the time and giving me a very good explanation to my question on chicken. So I'll watch my temp a lot closer.
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Old 10-11-2014, 04:37 PM   #4
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Yes, brine

Brining does indeed help with chicken. According to Cook's Illustrated, anyway, who do their research.

" Brining promotes a change in the structure of the proteins in the muscle. The salt causes protein strands to become denatured, or unwound. This is the same process that occurs when proteins are exposed to heat, acid, or alcohol. When protein strands unwind, they get tangled up with one another, forming a matrix that traps water. "
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Old 10-12-2014, 07:42 AM   #5
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has anyone ever tried to jaccard a piece of chicken, or run it through a tenderizer?
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Old 10-12-2014, 09:52 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by buckytom View Post
has anyone ever tried to jaccard a piece of chicken, or run it through a tenderizer?
I use a sort of jaccarding tool on flank steak.
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Old 10-12-2014, 12:02 PM   #7
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You can also use an immersion cooker and set it to 160F and then not have to worry about it overcooking.
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Old 10-12-2014, 12:21 PM   #8
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They sell pumped/enhanced chicken. Almost all restaurants do. At my place of work, we sell only fresh , unpumped chicken. It is a lot more expensive. I have used many different chicken breast products in my 30 years in the restaurant business and some were down right hideous. 100% Natural chicken does not fall apart like you have mentioned. The stuff your wife ate has been treated. Here is what they do to most of the chicken you can buy and eat every day...

It shows and explains the procedure at about 1:30 in, but if you watch the whole thing you will get a better understanding as to why they do it. As usual, follow the money.
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Old 10-12-2014, 09:03 PM   #9
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1. Brine over night
2. Cook chicken whole or not fillet
3. Don't over cook
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Old 10-13-2014, 01:44 AM   #10
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What? noone mentioned buttermilk?
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