I don’t eat a whole lot of meat, but I do like to have a chicken breast every now and again. For that reason, I like to buy frozen chicken breasts and keep them in the freezer for whenever I get that urge.
Problem is, defrosting chicken in the microwave never seems to go well, and I always end up with half-cooked chicken. When the oh-so-smart defrost cycle finishes, and tells me that my chicken has been defrosted, I check and see a half-cooked monstrosity. Defrosted? Really? You’ve half cooked this thing!
I’m always left feeling like I’m eating “twice-cooked” chicken. Twice baking a potato is good. Twice cooking chicken, eh, not so much.
If I planned ahead, I suppose I could simply move a piece of frozen chicken from the freezer to the refrigerator and let it thaw overnight. Unfortunately, I never seem to have that sort of foresight. Like I said, I only have chicken when the fancy strikes me, and that fancy doesn’t strike with 24 hours notice.
I used to thaw chicken by leaving it out on the counter for a few hours, but I recently learned that this is a very bad idea – most (something like 80% I think?) raw chicken carries harmful bacteria like salmonella. These bacteria are dormant at lower temperatures and are eradicated upon cooking. Problem is, when you leave chicken out on the counter the surface of that chicken comes to room temperature long before the inside does. And that’s when the bacteria start multiplying.
It takes the salmonella bacterium only about 30 minutes to replicate itself. And each time a cycle completes, the number of bacteria doubles. Each time!
Here’s an example: Let’s say you leave your chicken at room temperature for three hours. And let’s say you start with 100 bacteria. (You actually start with millions, but hey, it’s an example.) After one-half hour you’ll have 200 bacteria. Then 400. Then 800. Then 1600. And finally 3,200. 100 bacterial grew into 3,200 in just three hours!
Here’s my new method of thawing chicken, and it only takes a few hours of waiting.
1. Put chicken breast in a container.
2. Fill container with cold water*.
3. Cover the container.
4. Place the container in the refrigerator.
5. Check back in a few hours.
* Don’t use warm water! Warm water only helps the bacteria. Warm water only thaws the surface.
If you’re feeling adventurous, go ahead and add things to the water to make a marinade. I like to add some combination of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, white wine, garlic, salt, pepper, lemon juice, orange juice, oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc. (Not all at once, obviously.) Experiment! Who knows, maybe you’ll discover something you really like. The worst that can happen is that you’ll have some funky tasting chicken. But at least you’ll learn what *doesn’t* work, and you’ll be wiser the next time around. My little tip: I’ve found that some of the fancier whole peppercorns can really make the meal.
That’s it – the water helps the chicken thaw faster than it would otherwise, and you’re able to thaw the chicken in the refrigerator, suppressing bacterial reproduction.