Ok, I’m going to say it; boneless skinless chicken breasts are usually really boring and they can be tricky to cook. They usually lack flavor and are almost always dry and chewy when fully cooked. This recipe is how to make them pretty mind-blowing.
Once you sous vide chicken breast; there’s no going back!
What is sous vide cooking?
Sous what? Sous vide, pronounced ‘sue veed’ is a French term that translates to “under vacuum.” In cooking, it is basically the technique of vacuum sealing food in a plastic bag and submerging it into a temperature controlled water bath for a certain amount of time. That’s it. There’s really not a whole lot more to it, other than it’s magic.
Sous vide is the method that restaurants have been using for years to serve perfectly cooked food. While the chefs are obviously great at cooking, they use sous vide to eliminate guessing and produce textures that are extremely difficult to achieve with traditional methods.
Here’s why sous vide works so well for chicken breasts
When you cook chicken breasts on the stove, grill or in the oven, the internal temperature of 165 degrees f needs to be reached to make them safe to eat. The problem with that is the heat source is much hotter than 165 degrees; it’s usually more than double the temperature.
That means that once the chicken has reached 165 degrees in the center, the temperature will keep climbing if it isn’t removed from the heat at the perfect time. It also means that the temperature closer to the exterior is going to be hotter than 165 degrees (yep, that means overcooked). If you want perfectly cooked chicken, your timing has to be perfect too, which is really difficult to do.
Then there’s the sous vide method. By cooking the chicken breasts in a lower temperature water bath for a longer period of time, they get fully cooked, but there’s no possibility of the temperature going higher than what you set it to. This gives a big window of cooking time without having to worry about them overcooking.
Sous vide makes it impossible to overcook chicken
Sous vide is the easiest way to cook skinless boneless chicken breasts
Here’s why: Cooking boneless skinless chicken breasts always feels like a guessing game. It goes on the grill, when is it done? Do you cut into it to check, or do you use a thermometer? Either way, they just aren’t going to be great.
When you cook the chicken breast in the sous vide, it will cook to the exact perfect temperature with no guessing. Below are the numbers for temperature and time to make it perfect.
145° F for 1 1/2 to 2 hours is the magic number
Why sous vide chicken breasts?
- Perfectly cooked every time
- The texture is wonderful
- Super healthy (can cook with no fat)
- Convenient and totally hands off
- Can be made ahead and it’s great for meal prep
- Gives you plenty of time to entertain dinner party guests while the sous vide does its magic
- Add whatever flavors to the bag that will be infused into the chicken while it cooks
Meal prep tips
The sous vide method is really great for meal prepping. Prep the bags by seasoning the chicken, adding herbs or a sauce, vacuum seal and they are ready to go. You can keep them in the fridge if using in the next few days or freeze for later use.
You can also cook the breasts sous vide ahead of time, cool in an ice bath and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days until you are ready to use.
Can you cook frozen chicken sous vide?
Absolutely! One of the great things about cooking sous vide is you can add vacuum sealed frozen foods right to the water bath. For boneless skinless chicken, just add an extra hour to the cooking time and everything else is the same.
How to Sous Vide Chicken Breasts
If you can cook pasta, you can easily sous vide chicken breasts. Since boneless skinless chicken breasts don’t have a ton of favor on their own; seasoning and adding the fresh thyme or other herbs are pretty key to adding wonderful flavors.
- Fill a large pot or container with water and set the sous vide machine to 145° F / 62.7° C.
- Season the chicken liberally with kosher salt & freshly ground pepper; placing a few fresh thyme sprigs on each side of the breasts.
- Add the chicken to the bag along with any sauce or marinade (if using).
- Vacuum seal or get as much air out as you can if using the water displacement method in a ziplock bag.
- Clip the bag to the side of the pot or container to keep it in place and submerged.
- Cook the chicken at 145° F for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (same result within this time window).
- Remove from the bag and rest on a cutting board for about 5 minutes before serving.
Sear the skin if using skin-on chicken breasts: Dry the skin with paper towels, season again and sear for 45 seconds to 1 minute to brown and crisp up the skin. There’s no reason to sear boneless skinless chicken breasts as there is no fat to crisp.
What temperature do you sous vide chicken breast?
The water bath should be set to 145° F / 62.7° C.
How long does it take to sous vide chicken breast?
The perfect cooking time window is between 1 1/2 and 2 hours.
Is sous vide chicken safe?
Yes! Sous vide chicken is safe to eat even though it is not cooked to 165°F. While the FDA recommends cooking the chicken to 165°F to pasteurize it; pasteurization is actually based on both the temperature and time it is at that temperature. The recommended 165°F is really the nuclear option to pasteurize it.
Bringing the chicken to 145° F for 9.2 minutes will also pasteurize it reducing the bacteria without overcooking it. If you cooked chicken 9 minutes after it reached an internal temperature of 165° F in the oven, the chicken would be dry.
If you are interested in learning more, check out this post from Serious Eats on sous vide chicken and food safety.
Quick tip for using ziplock bags for sous vide (the water displacement method)
It’s important to get all the air out of the bag so the water can fully be in contact with the chicken for proper cooking. The trick to getting all the air out is to partially seal the ziplock bag and remove as much as you can by hand, then submerge the bag in the water bath which will push the rest of the air out. The bag can then be fully sealed and clipped to the side of the container.
If your bag keeps floating to the surface, place a small bowl or plate on top to keep it submerged.
Marinades / Seasonings to try
One of the great things about cooking chicken breasts sous vide is you can add any flavor you like, and the chicken will totally take on that flavor. I almost always add fresh thyme sprigs to each side of the chicken breast, and each bite has the essence of the thyme flavor.
Try adding lemon slices, bbq sauce, pesto, chimichurri, other herbs, butter, romanesco or just about anything else you can think of to add variety and tons of great flavor to your chicken breasts.
How to use sous vide chicken
The perfectly cooked chicken breasts can be sliced and eaten as is or on top of a Caesar salad, in a sandwich, pasta, make chicken salad, in tacos and so much more.
What sous vide machine to use
In the last few years, high-quality consumer-grade sous vide machines have become very popular and inexpensive. The Anova Nano Precision Cooker is a great machine to start with for under $75 (amazon affiliate link). One of the most popular and highest rated machines is the Joule Sous Vide by ChefSteps (affiliate link).
Check out my post with all the essential Sous Vide Accessories to get you cooking sous vide at your best.
Special Equipment Used
You can see the equipment used (below) or check out the post all about Essential Sous Vide Accessories.
Contains affiliate links where I might receive a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
- 2 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
- kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
- 4 fresh thyme sprigs
- olive oil
- Fill a large pot or container with warm water and heat the water bath to 145° F according to your sous vide machine’s instructions.
- Season the chicken breasts with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Place a thyme sprig on each side of the breasts, drizzle a little olive oil on top, then place the chicken in a vacuum seal bag or ziplock bag.
- Vacuum seal the bag if using a vacuum sealer, or if using a ziplock bag; partially seal it removing as much air as possible, then place it in the water to push the rest of the air out before sealing.
- Clip the bag to the side of the pot or container to keep it submerged and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove from the water bath and rest for 5 to 10 minutes in the bag.
- Remove the chicken from the bag and place on a cutting board to slice or dice.