Fish can be eaten raw, beef can be enjoyed in a wide range of cooking intensities, but one thing that every food lover knows is that you should never, ever mess with chicken. We enjoy it grilled, we enjoy it roasted, we definitely enjoy it fried, but we make sure we always enjoy it with every piece of meat a healthy white color.
Take it from me: getting salmonella is absolutely no picnic. The bacteria responsible for that pretty awful strain of food poisoning is only killed by pasteurization or some thorough cooking, and as a result, whenever we even suspect that our chicken might have a shade of pink in it, we take it right back to the chef or cook it for 10 minutes longer just to be sure.
No medium-rare chicken steaks for me, please.
But what if there was a way to enjoy chicken without having to suffer through dry, overcooked breasts and thighs? What if I told you that chicken which is a shade of pink could actually be safe for you to eat, without you having to camp out in your bathroom for days on end?
Well, that’s exactly what Dr Greg Blonder says. He’s a physicist, and also co-author of Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling. He knows a thing or two about science, and he’s not too shabby with food either. He says that some pinkness in your chicken will never fade, no matter how much you cook it.
So what causes the pink color in your favorite white meat? Well, as Dr Blonder explains, the majority of chickens sold in stores are just six to eight weeks old. Younger chickens tend to have more hollow bones, and they tend to be more porous than their older counterparts.
Dr Blonder reveals that when cooked, something weird happens to your chicken. “The purple marrow—so colored due to the presence of myoglobin, a protein responsible for storing oxygen—leaks into the meat.” This, in turn, stains the bone, meaning your chicken will never go the safe shade of white you’re expecting.
But what about the meat closer to the surface of your chicken? Well, some cooking techniques that don’t require high temperatures – smoking your chicken, for example – don’t get rid of that pink shading at all; in fact, they make it worse. Myglobin’s the culprit again here; in fact, when you’re barbecuing, the pinkness in your chicken is a sign that your chicken is cooked to perfection.
So, why is your chicken bloody in the first place? According to Dr Blonder, you’re wrong: it’s not even bloody in the first place. “All commercially-sold chickens are drained of their blood during processing,” he reveals, meaning the red liquid you see is our old friend myoglobin mixing with moisture from the chicken, creating something called myowater, which is way les gross than it sounds.
Still not convinced? Has the specter of food poisoning convinced you never to eat pink chicken again? That’s cool: Dr Blonder has some tips for keeping your chicken as white as possible.
First: be sure to debone your chicken before cooking it. All that myoglobin comes from the chicken’s bones, so without those bones, you won’t have the pink stain anywhere near it. Secondly, be sure to give your chicken a bath in citrus or vinegar to lower the pH of your poultry (i.e. make it more acidic).
A lower acidity means myoglobin will turn clear at higher temperatures, leaving you feeling unsure of your meat, and ruining what could be a lovely chicken dinner with some low-level anxiety.