Does your chicken or turkey come out dry and tough?

A very frequent question I get from visitors to vir2oso.com, is "How do I make my chicken nice and moist?"
It is really very simple. Seasoning and marinade has something to do with it, but not as much as perceived by the mainstream. Your fears of salmonella cause you to cook it until it is done. Then you let it cook another 5 minutes to really make sure it is done, and then, with the tongs in your hand, ready to pull it off the heat, you think about what your grandmother used to say, "It's not done until it falls of the bone". So the poor shrinking chicken breast gets to stay on the grill for another 10 minutes. Now you wonder why it is only half the size of what you started with. Why it is black, and not golden brown? And why it is so hard, that your dog can't chew it?
Well, here is the solution. Go to your supermarket, K-mart, Wall-mart, or a kitchen gadget store, and invest in an instant-read thermometer. They range in price from about $3.50 to several hundred. The good thing is that the cheap analog thermometer works just as good as the fancy digital one with more "bells and whistles" than you know what to do with. Just make sure you calibrate it from time to time (especially if you drop it). It is really easy, and is explained on the back of the pack.
You cannot rely on quoted times such as "8 minutes on each side". There are too many variables, such as the heat of your grill/frying pan, the thickness of the meat, what part of the poultry (white or dark meat) and the moisture level in the meat.
Cook it until you think it is half way done, and then insert the thermometer in to the thickest part of the meat. Note the tiny indent in the "needle". That is where the temperature probe is located (about 1/2 to 1 inch up from the tip). That is what needs to be in the middle on the meat. If it is a relatively thin chicken breast you are cooking, you may insert the thermometer from the side, instead of from the top. Allow it to "sense" for 10-20 seconds. If it does not show 165 degrees, it is not done yet. Pull out your new instrument, and let it cook a little longer. 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 Celsius) is the safe temperature where the salmonella has been killed. A bumper is built into this, so you do not need to cook it past this. If you accidentally let it cook too long, breast meat will start to appear dry at 170 degrees; dark meat (thigh) has more fat and can tolerate about 180 before it get dry.
Thoroughly wipe off the "needle" after each time it has been inserted, to avoid contamination from probing partially-cooked meat.
There are literally thousands of ways to season your poultry, and you do not have to marinate it. However, my favorite chicken recipe is "Chicken Napa Valley", and it is marinated.
Here it is:
2 cups Olive Oil Blend
1 cup White Wine
cup Lemon Juice
cup Cider Vinegar or White Wine Vinegar
2 cloves Minced Garlic
1 ea Minced Shallots
1 tbsp Chives, chopped
1 tsp Thyme
Salt & Pepper
Stir all ingredients vigorously, and taste prior to adding chicken (make sure that you do not just taste the oil at the surface). Adjust seasoning if desired. Add chicken and allow marinate to penetrate between the chicken breasts. Refrigerate 2 to 24 hours.
Pour it in to a colander to let the marinade drain off prior to grilling. Excessive oil will cause flames, which again will result in un-desirable soot. Serve with "Chive Beurre Blanc"

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Copyright 2001 Carol Stevens, Shaboom's Kitchen, All Rights Reserved