Widely available in Canada and mandated for use within the European Union, the process of air-chilling chicken is becoming increasingly popular with American consumers.
During water-chilling, the traditional method for preparing chicken for market, multiple chickens are soaked in a vat of chlorinated water and injected with a salted water solution.
Much of this salt and water is retained in the chicken. In other words, you’re paying for water.
The process of air-chilling blasts individual chickens with cold purified air in two stages until the appropriate temperature is reached.
Why does it matter what process is used to prepare the chicken?
Air-chilled chicken has a better flavor and a much better texture. As water-chilled chicken is cooked, the liquid it has absorbed evaporates. This creates shrunken, rubbery chicken. This is particularly noticeable when grilling or barbecuing.
According to The National Provisioner a University of Nebraska study found that air-chilled chicken contains 80% less bacteria than water-chilled chicken, giving it a longer shelf life.
Because air-chilled chicken is prepared individually, it does not face the same risk of cross-contamination as water-chilled chicken.
Examine the chicken you are buying to ensure that it is actually air-chilled. If the label gives a percentage of retained water or lists water or salt in the ingredients, it is not air-chilled. In addition, air-chilled chicken should not have large amount of liquid in the package.
It may seem as if water-chilled chicken breasts are more expensive, but if you’re buying up to 3 ounces of water in a 6 ounce chicken breast you may discover the “more expensive” air-chilled chicken is actually less expensive in the end.
Try using it in delicious chicken recipes like Stir-Fried Broccoli Rice or Cajun Chicken Pasta that pair it with healthy and filling ingredients or adding it to your favorite soup recipe. This will stretch your grocery dollar and provide your family with delicious and nutritious meals.
Even better, buy your chicken from a local professional butcher or farmer where you can ask how the chicken was prepared. Most likely you will find your local butcher will never consider water-chilling as a viable option.
When grilling or searing chicken in a skillet, water-chilled will release its retained water and instead of browning properly it will boil or steam and it will be difficult to take on the wonderful caramelization and browning that makes home cooked chicken so delicious.