Why I Don’t Rinse Poultry

A recent story on National Public Radio reminded me of the revelation I had about rinsing poultry while working on my last cookbook, All About Roasting. I thought it’d be good to share the excerpt.

“Anyone who has followed a poultry recipe from my earlier book, All About Braising, may be surprised by the title of this section. Yes, it’s true: Throughout the braising book, I begin every poultry recipe by telling you to rinse the bird and then pat it dry, and for years I mindlessly rinsed poultry (especially chicken) as soon as I took it out of its packaging. Then, as I began developing recipes for my next cookbook (All About Roasting) , I was standing in my kitchen about to hold a perfectly wholesome chicken under my kitchen faucet and I had one of those rare moments of revelation. I realized that rinsing was not only unnecessary, it was a bad habit. For starters, many of us rinse poultry because we think it’s more sanitary; in other words, we are somehow washing off any potential pathogens. The problem here is that by rinsing, you are actually spreading any harmful bacteria all over your kitchen sink, so unless you scrub your entire sink (and any counter surfaces that may have been splashed) with some sort of cleaning agent afterward, you are doing more harm than good. Also, unless you severely undercook your poultry, any bad microbes will be killed during cooking.

Beyond the food safety question, rinsing poultry can have a negative effect on the appearance and taste of your recipes, especially when roasting. One of the primary goals of roasting is to develop a handsome brown crust, and this requires having a dry surface—the less moisture it has, the better the surface will crisp and brown. Wet poultry skin also has the unfortunate tendency to stick to the pan or roasting rack, so that it tears when you try to remove it. From a flavor standpoint, when we rinse, we are essentially washing away flavor, and worse, we water down the chicken’s natural flavor. More so than red meat and pork, chicken (and other poultry) has a natural ability to absorb a good deal of water. When you’re brining, this is a good thing, because the chicken will soak up the flavors and salt in the brine, which will enhance its flavor. Plain tap water, however, does nothing but dilute the natural juices and leave the chicken waterlogged and bland. Plus unsalted water added to poultry during rinsing merely leaks out during cooking, leaving the meat drier than it would be otherwise. Now the only time you’ll find me rinsing poultry is if I’ve accidentally dropped it on the kitchen floor, in which case the quicker, the better.”

– Excerpted from All About Roasting

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