Basic science involved in cooking chicken to perfection

Chicken is a popular menu item and it’s extremely versatile, with many different cooking applications – it can be roasted, stuffed or grilled, fried, steamed or poached. Here we look at the basic science involved in cooking chicken to perfection.

Chicken is naturally tender, and the easiest way to ensure that it remains succulent is by not overcooking it.  Chicken breasts in particular can overcook quickly due to their low fat content and short muscle fibres – if left cooking for too long, the muscle fibres will shrink and toughen, making the meat dry and stringy.

Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the chicken has been cooked through – the ideal temperature is 75°C. Insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken, but avoid touching the bone as this will give you an incorrect reading. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you can make an incision on the thickest part of the chicken and see if the juices run clear. If the juices are still pink, then it needs to cook for longer.

Just like steak, chicken should also rest for about 15 minutes before cutting. While the chicken is cooking, its muscle fibres start to firm up and expel water from the meat. The moisture moves outwards, towards the surface of the meat where some will eventually evaporate. When the chicken is removed from the cooking heat, the internal juices will redistribute back through the meat, but if the meat is cut, the juices will just run out of the meat and pool on the plate. This naturally leads to a dry piece of chicken.

This also goes for chicken that’s been cooked in a sauce. Don’t remove the chicken from the sauce when it’s still warm as it will dry out as it cools – rather cool the chicken in the sauce and then remove the chicken.