Industrial Chicken
January 13, 2010 11:29 AM   Subscribe

You know that kinda mushy, dry texture to chicken breasts served by cafeterias and large-volume caterers? I want to do that on purpose.

I'm pretty sure the chicken isn't reconstituted bits and pieces, but there's a particular texture to mass-produced chicken breasts, often served in some kind of sauce or gravy, that I actually like. It's tender, but has a dry mouth-feel - definitely NEEDS sauce - and lacks any long 'fibers.' By what cooking method is this achieved? I'd love to be able to pre-cook a bunch of chicken and sauce it according to my moods. I tried slow-cooking and poaching, and neither method gave me the texture I was looking for. Ideas?
posted by ferociouskitty to Food & Drink (18 answers total)
I think it's just cooked then spends a couple hours under heat lamps. So -- cook, then sitting in the oven at a really low temperature until it's unpleasant enough to require a shower of sauce to revive it enough to be edible.

If I'm understanding the goal here.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:33 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think this is hella nasty, but my old roommate used to achieve this exact chicken grossification by cooking it grocery store chicken breasts on a 'George Foreman'-type electric grill. The surface of the chicken would get this kind of dried-out texture, but the rest of the chicken would retain some tenderness, and not pick up any kind of flavoring or anything. Ug. I don't even like thinking about this, but its super easy and if I'm understanding you correctly, it will do exactly what you want.
posted by jeb at 11:38 AM on January 13, 2010

Don't assume that the chicken isn't "reconstituted bits and pieces" just because it looks vaguely like a whole chicken breast. I'm willing to bet that it is just that.
posted by Nonce at 11:38 AM on January 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Any kind of microwaved breaded chicken breast will achieve this. My roommate used to eat those and they smelled and looked nasty to me, but he liked them.
posted by ishotjr at 11:42 AM on January 13, 2010

You could try freezing the chicken breasts first, especially if they are at room temperature or higher before going in the freezer. Long freezing times promote large ice crystal formation which will break down cell walls and mushify the chicken a bit.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:43 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

1) As Nonce points out, most restaurant chicken breasts, especially in middle-brow to low-end restaurants, probably are reconstituted.

2) If you must use real meat, just overcook the sunnuvabitch. I think all you're really trying to do is dry it out.
posted by valkyryn at 11:44 AM on January 13, 2010

Just wanted to note that the chicken in Nonce's Sysco link promises the bewildering "Glazed flavoring" so maybe if you hit the industrial chicken section in your grocery store (those big bags of chickeny looking things nestled in the frozen foods) you'd be well on your way to goopy wedding reception chicken.

The ingredients should give you some indication of whether you're looking at chicken breasts or however they euphemistically describe chicken parts reconstituted as chicken parts. Given that link, I guess you want the latter.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:47 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Those people are poets.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:59 AM on January 13, 2010

Could it be an effect of the chafing dish? They cook then chicken then it sits in the hot, steamy chafing dish for too long, drying out the middle but keeping the exterior damp.
posted by chairface at 12:08 PM on January 13, 2010

over-marinate in something very acidic, like vinegar, naranja agria, etc.
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:30 PM on January 13, 2010

I think it's probably chopped up and reconstituted, because in my experience, chicken breasts only get more fibrous as you overcook them.

I'd try grinding the raw meat in a food processor with a little salt, then forming them in patties and sauteeing them (may need to add an egg to the ground meat first, see if it'll hold together without), and then saucing. I think that might actually come out pretty tasty, depending on the sauce, as well as having the texture you're interested in.
posted by palliser at 12:36 PM on January 13, 2010

Chicken breasts tend to get this way when they are cooked in a slow cooker for hours. Even with some liquid, they tend to dry out and are *sticky* when you bite them.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 12:48 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Put the chicken in a deep pan and cover it with plastic wrap. Leave it in a warmer at around 170, maybe 200 for a few hours. The problem with just overcooking it is you can easily burn it- quite different than cafeteria quality chicken. This comes from years of cafeteria experience.
posted by jmd82 at 12:57 PM on January 13, 2010

I'm going to guess the texture you're describing is due to grinding too. The technique is very similar to making sausage. The meat is first ground, which cuts the fibers. It it then combined with salt, which helps to break down some of the proteins. Finally, it it mechanically mixed for a few minutes. This mixing binds the fibers and proteins together. The end result is that the meat holds together, and gives a little rubbery snap when you bite into it. Think of the difference in texture between biting into a pub burger versus biting into a pork sausage.

If you want to try and duplicate this, I'd recommend buying ground chicken, putting it into a stand mixer, and mixing for a few minutes with salt and seasonings, then shaping into patties.
posted by TungstenChef at 1:00 PM on January 13, 2010

Have you tried a wet-bake casserole type method? Basically, chicken breasts go in a baking dish covered with (but not drowning in) some kind of sauce, gravy, or cream of mushroom soup-like substance, then cook in the oven at a reasonably high temp (like ~350 F). The chicken ends up being an odd combination of boiled and baked and ends up really soft with a pretty uniform texture, but still kind of dry -- or, at least, definitely not juicy like grilled chicken can be. (I'm not sure if this is what you're going for, but the result tends to be different than what the other cooking methods you've mentioned produce.) Here's a basic recipe.
posted by sentient at 6:56 PM on January 13, 2010

I got that exact texture when I brined chicken breasts for too long (overnight, instead of 30 minutes). The cooking method doesn't matter either. I grilled the overbrined breasts, sauteed them and baked them. They all had that weird soft-yet-dry texture.

My husband liked them, though, so it wasn't a total loss.
posted by dogmom at 7:59 PM on January 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the input. I have a lot of different ways to try to ruin chicken now! (I'll try the Sysco-type bits and pieces as a last resort, because while I can't find the nutritional info online, I'm willing to bet it's filled with all kinds of extra sodium and trans-fats and souls of baby seals and stuff.)
posted by ferociouskitty at 4:55 AM on January 14, 2010

Yeah, the lack of "long fibers" is a dead giveaway that what you actually have is a three-dimensional model chicken breast made out of chewed-up chicken molecules. A quilt rather than a duvet, if you will.

Any cooking technique or recipe that doesn't involve robots will not be able to replicate that.
posted by Sallyfur at 5:18 AM on January 14, 2010

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