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July 29, 2005

Food science question

Collective hivemind, this one's for y'all...

Tonight I defrosted two largish chicken breasts from the same Fresh Direct bulk frozen chicken breast bag. I had bagged and frozen individually about two weeks ago. The two were simultaneously defrosted for 1:40 in the microwave on the "defrost boneless poultry" cycle. Both were brined for approximately 20 minutes in a 2:1 brine of iodized table salt and sugar. I added crushed ice to maintain food safe temperatures throughout. The chicken pieces dredged in all-purpose flour, salt, and ground black pepper. Then I sauteed them in a preheated cast iron pan with olive oil for >5 minutes per side (these are large pieces).

So, why did the one on the left exude >3 tablespoons of opaque whitish fluid while its partner exuded nothing? (No dirty jokes, please, this is a serious question! I mean, dirty jokes are always welcome, but mostly I want to know whether my chicken is likely to kill anyone, specifically me. I am too cheap to throw out an apparently good chicken breast and too ethical to feed such a thing to my beloved and trusting Thad.) I'm going to assume that the exuding one is safe to eat because I've cooked it to a safe temperature, according to my digital thermometer. Am I being foolhardy?

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What is Fresh Direct? Is the chicken "organic" or otherwise supposedly free of all kinds of stuff, including taste additive solutions?

I only use antibiotic free, hormone free, free range, etc. etc chicken, but that doesn't mean it doesn't do strange things every now and then. The stuff oozing out could have been fat --- or it could have been that it wasn't fully defrosted when you began cooking, and the liquids mixed with the flour to create the ooze. Or, if the chicken isn't organic, it could have been solution mixed with who knows what.

In general, if the chicken smells good, I don't much worry about what it does unless it's just way weird. Say like crowing on the burner. That oozing doesn't sound too weird to me. Unless what you're using is non-organic factory farm stuff.

Thanks, Cookie. The chicken smells great.

Fresh Direct is a grocery delivery service. They usually have better stuff than the markets in our neighborhood. I suspect the chicken is factory farmed.

Well, happens to my chicken all the time and I haven't died yet, so I wouldn't worry about it too much. The professional chef on the other end of the phone says that it is cooked chicken blood.

It wouldn't be fat - fat would dissolve into a clear/yellow liquid.

Hmm. it could be chicken blood. Or some other strange chicken substance.

Might be due to variations in the amount of power delivered by the microwave to the chicken. I assume you have a rotating table microwave, which ought to even out the heating, but still there might be significant differences in the temperature distribution between the two pieces. The power distribution due to microwave coupling to the water in the chicken follows an exponential decay with depth (scaling length is about 12 cm), so it's pretty sensitive to details of the shape and thickness of the piece, not to mention the fact that the conductivity of the chicken may vary, which can lead to local hot spots. Presumably the amount of brine solution taken up will depend on the temperature distribution within the chicken.

All this is pretty hypothetical, and most likely it's just due to the fact that the chicken on the right hit the gym on a regular basis and the one on the left sat around drinking beer and surfing the web.

It was probably "flavor enhancer solution" that is injected into the factory farmed stuff so it will, you know, taste like chicken. If the big one was the one with the "ooze" it was probably this solution that was still cristalized in the tissue. The bag should say that it is injected with the stuff if it is. Food labeling is still required, George apparently has no Agri-business buddies.

... and too ethical to feed such a thing to my beloved and trusting Thad.

As far as I can tell, this is the core of your problem.

The "guinea pig" clause is a standard part of the unwritten significant-other contract.

Uhh, at least that's what I've always been told, anyway.

Here's my best 2nd-hand story on chicken (that may or may not be relevant). A guy who worked at the Col. Sanders supplier in Mt. Angel, Oregon told me that, at 8 weeks ("Not 2 months"- his words) the feeding crew adds 'something' that will cause the birds to retain fluids... kind of an internal live-basting process. After 3 days they're off to Pluckville and the Hangin' line- then into the chiller (& down the road). Draw your own conclusions.
I'm down with everyone (except Swopa- come on!.. the cook ALWAYS eats the mistakes, the anomalies, the blot of mustard, the bit of underdone potato... you know? Like, all the vegies that your kids didn't eat... rice, too.) ^..^

I have two thoughts on this:
a) the Microwave defrost theory - I don't do this myself, because I am leery of any fast-defrost method, but I think Andrew C. has the basics down; power, placement, rotation, and I think you could add the original frozen shape of the breast - all of that is going to count.
b) the not-from-the-same-bird theory. Packaged as yours were, you are getting different pieces from different birds. Each expired in its own way, and - this I get from Julia Child - if an animal has a great adrenaline rush in the last moments, this will influence the tenderness of the meat. Seems to toughen it, and I speculate this comes from muscle contraction and, perhaps (I said speculation!) pooling of fluids in the tissues.

Cooked conventionally, you have to let meat and poultry rest before cutting into them, or the juices driven out by heat will drain away, and the flesh will be tough and dry. Something like that may occur in microwave thawing - again, it's not a technique I use.

My question would be whether the weeping breast and the non-weeping breast had the same texture after they were cooked.

Love to know what anyone out there with pro expertise has to say about this. And, whoa, not a thread for vegans, is it??

I believe it is a colloidal suspension of fats in water.

You peeople are weird. Perhaps some of you have spent too much time with your head in the microwave.

I am weird for reading eleven speculative, elaborate comments on the identification and method of production of some "opaque whitish fluid" from cooked chicken.

Someone said it's chicken blood. End of story. Jesus Christ.

normal has the what (water from the blood) right, Andrew has the why (microwave).

It's safe.

Typically, chicken meat is chilled in a liquid solution of a certain osmotic pressure. This is done to make the meat soak up fluids and weigh heavier on the scale--you get to sell water at chicken prices. (A side note: one can now pay a significant premium for 'air chilled' chicken meat that has not been through this process.)

Upon brining, the osmotic pressure in the cells went up, causing them to bleed fluids out into the heavier concentration of salts outside of them. Add heat and the process speeds up.

As to why one and not the other, they probably weren't from the same bird, and one of the breasts soaked up a lot more fluid during chilling.

Here is my considered opinionas a public health scientist, based on the evidence as I know it at this moment (August 1).

You posted today. Therefore I believe it was safe to have eaten the chicken.

And I'm not surprised. If you cooked it to a temp. above 160 degrees F. you did in the pathogens.

Does that mean that's it's safe to eat any chicken that I cook to >160 F? (You don't have to tell me the truth, per se, just give me the answer that you think would serve my long term best interests.)

Essentially, yes, that's correct. I can't think of any sporeformers in chickens that would withstand the heat but then germinate in you, nor is it likely from your description that you had staph in it that formed a heat stable toxin. If you let the chicken incubate for over four hours in the temp range of 40 - 120 degrees or so there is a small chance that it would incubate staph (if inoculated with toxicogenic staph), produce toxin which would be heat stable (which would produce nausea and vomiting within 3 - 6 hours but is rarely life threatening except in the already debilitated). Since staph is a halophile, the brine wouldn't have made much difference, but the ice would have. And the bugs take time to get comfortable in their new homes, so they don't enter the "log phase" (phase of logarithmic growth) for a good four hours in incubating temperatures (e.g., on your kitchen counter).

Anything else that might be in it (principally salmonella spp or E. coli or other enteric pathogens) would be cooked.

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