I know, I’ve been a bit preachy of late. It’s the times, or maybe the incessant wind. Let me get this one off my chest, and I promise I’ll untwist my knickers.
A few days ago a question was posted to a food website about the “safest way to quickly thaw chicken.” The questioner confessed to being in the habit of leaving it on a plate in the kitchen while he/she was at work, and had a feeling there was a better way. If I did that, my cats would think Christmas was rolling around as often as it probably should. If I did that, I would hope someone would drag me off to have my head examined, and not for being overly generous to the animals.
Unfortunately, we don’t know if the question refers to a piece or pieces of chicken, or a whole chicken. It doesn’t make an enormous difference because the answer is the same regardless. The only difference is that a single piece or individual pieces will thaw more quickly than the entire bird. The process, though is identical. The USDA and common sense recommend that you transfer anything frozen to refrigeration for as long as it takes for it to thaw. A whole frozen chicken: a good 2 days. A frozen turkey? Count on 4 days.
The next best way is to place the frozen food under cold running water. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it works like a charm. Now it won’t thaw a whole chicken in 20 minutes, but a chicken breast? Sure. A piece of fish, a steak, a frozen burger patty? Absolutely. That said, since most of us have to buy water from the city, then pay to run it into the sewer, running water can be a bit of a pricey way of thawing a dinner repeatedly. Instead, I put my bison burger patties, or my piece of ahi in a large bowl of cold tap water. I change it every 15 minutes or so until the food is thawed. Use the same method for thawing a bag of frozen vegetables. In winter, I go through many bags of frozen peas and corn. I’ll transfer what I need from the master frozen bag to a ziplock bag, and toss that into a bowl of cold water. A black bean salad with tender sweet corn in January is a pretty precious thing.
The third alternative is to defrost in a microwave. How many of us have not resorted to this? How many of us have been happy with the result? For one thing, it’s not going to do much good against a frozen chicken, let alone a turkey. For another, I’d change my dinner plans rather than let a piece of ahi even catch a glimpse of a microwave. Nonetheless, if you must thaw in a microwave, you must be prepared to proceed with cooking it immediately. I trust the reasons are obvious. If not, think about what you’ve just done. The microwave has set water molecules in motion, thereby causing friction, which generates, heat, which causes food to not only thaw, but also to begin cooking. You’ve launched it into what is known as the temperature danger zone.
The TDZ (cooking has its own set of potentially fearsome acronyms) is the range between 41 and 135 degrees fahrenheit. That is the temperature range in which bacteria can begin to grow and to thrive. The objective in handling food, whether it be heating (including thawing) or cooling (a sermon for another day) is to move it through the TDZ as quickly as possible. Thawing food under refrigeration fits that bill to a T, as does thawing in cold water. Imagine traveling downhill in a baby buggy. You all thought, “dangerous,” right? Right? That’s similar to what microwaving does to frozen food. It launches it straight into the TDZ. Therefore, it needs to be cooked immediately.
Now back to the site and the question in question. Several answers, mine included, addressed well the coldness portions of this explanation. One did not. That responder (who had the TDZ temperatures wrong) suggested that the chicken be sealed in a plastic bag, then submerged in a bowl of lukewarm water. The person further advised thawing in the refrigerator during the day, then finishing with the water method (presumably lukewarm) upon arriving home. I didn’t become alarmed until that response was tagged as VOTED THE BEST ANSWER! The exclamation point is not mine.
What’s wrong with this picture? Obviously, the lukewarm water. For what I again hope are obvious reasons. Let’s return to the original question: the safest way to quickly thaw chicken. I tend to think of safest and quickest as being self-explanatory. But I may not have as much company as I thought I did. Clearly, the answer voted the BEST was the one everyone LIKED the best because it probably affirms what they’re already doing. But it is not a good answer. And no one should be doing that.
The first rule of the kitchen is Kill No One. (I’m not making this up.) Including yourself. Plan ahead. Be a little more patient than you might otherwise be. Be safe.