How to Cook Chicken

I don’t like raw chicken. I associate its smell with salmonella, and when I see it I want to don a hazmat suit and break out a bottle of clorox. I long ago gave up cooking chicken myself: I err on the side of overcooking, and overcooked chicken is tough and dry. But I do like properly cooked chicken. It so happens that my mother is a phenomenal and experienced cook. So I asked her how she makes chicken so delicious every time. Here is her answer:

First, equipment: An accurate instant-read thermometer is essential. Expect to pay at least $40 for one by such companies as ThermoWorks or ThermoPro.

Now, for boneless, skinless chicken breasts:

  1. Pound.  Place the thawed breasts in a zip lock bag and pound the thickest portion (using a heavy bottle, rolling pin, or the bottom of a glass) so the breast has a more uniform thickness throughout. You want it to be about ¾” thick.  This helps it cook more evenly. 
  2. Cut.  Cut each breast into about a 6-8 oz portion. 
  3. Brine. Place the breasts back Into the same zip lock bag. Add about 2 cups cold water and 2 Tablespoons salt. You want the water to cover the chicken.  If you need another cup of water and tablespoon of salt, add it.  Close the bag, pressing out some of the air.  Massage slightly to try to dissolve some of the salt.  Place in a container like a pie plate or shallow bowl in case the bag leaks.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  (Note: If you want to prepare the chicken ahead of time, you can let it soak in a weaker brine for hours.  About 1 teaspoon salt to 2 cups cold water.)
  4. Cook.  The most important thing is to cook it until it is 155-160 degrees F. To check the temperature, insert the probe into the thickest part of the breast. 
  5. Rest.  After it reaches 155-160 remove it from the heat to a plate, tent it with foil, and let it rest for 5-10 minutes before you cut into it.  Covering it lightly with foil and letting it rest off heat brings it up to 165 degrees, the safe temp for chicken.  Letting it rest allows the juices to recede away from the surface and back into the muscle tissue.  

Reheating Chicken

Even if chicken was great when first cooked, microwaving it inevitably ruins it for me. Apparently this is a problem called “warmed over flavor” that is so well known that foodies refer to it as WOF. Minimizing the meat’s exposure to oxygen can prevent this. Also reheating sous vide, or even in a conventional oven, seems to reduce WOF compared to microwaving. But supposedly nothing short of prompt vacuum sealing can totally eliminate WOF for those who are sensitive to it.


It’s huckleberry season! Huckleberries ripen beginning in late July. And since huckleberries resist cultivation, they have to be picked in the wild from bushes that grow on mountain slopes.

In Idaho and Montana, huckleberry foraging locations are traditionally family secrets. I was permitted to accompany one expedition to a patch just off a dirt road deep in Forest Service land at 6,600 feet elevation.

Wild Huckleberries in late July at 6,600 feet ASL

Picking huckleberries is not easy: The bushes are low to the ground, the sparse berries tend to form under the leaves, and even when fully ripe the small berries do not easily detach. An hour of concerted picking yields dark purple fingertips and only about three cups of huckleberries (which reduce to just two cups when crushed).

It took an hour to pick these three cups of huckleberries

What’s the attraction? Huckleberries have a taste along the same axis as blueberries, and blackberries, but the flavor is far more intense than that of similar fruit.

Blueberries and Huckleberries

Huckleberries are often canned as jam and syrup. I helped can a traditional jam recipe that cooks equal parts berries and sugar, plus some pectin. The result was a precious product that we canned in 4-ounce jars. Given the strength of the huckleberry’s flavor I thought that recipe was excessively concentrated. So for a second batch I added crushed cultivated (i.e., large and relatively flavorless) blueberries in equal part to huckleberries; reduced the sugar by 20%, and canned the jam in 8-ounce jars. Informal blind taste tests concluded that my modification did not diminish the product.

Canned Huckleberry Jam

Cookie Currency

Cookies and Tea
Keep Calm – David Will Fix It

These chocolate chip cookies are a so good that I honor them as payment for home repairs.

Yum … delicious, grey-market barter. Not dependent on fiat currencies, and beyond the reach of all but the most tyrannical governments. You can even have the recipe for free:

Chocolate Chip Coconut Cookies (High Altitude Recipe)

  • 1 C. + 2 T.  unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 6 T. butter, melted
  • 1/2 C. brown sugar
  • 1/4 C. minus 1 T. white sugar
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 C. chocolate chips
  • 1/3 C. coconut
  • 1/3 C. chopped, toasted pecans (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Cool the melted butter slightly.  Beat melted butter and sugars together.
  3. Add egg, yolk, and vanilla.  Beat until blended.
  4. Add salt and baking soda, beat or mix well.
  5. Stir in flour by hand until just incorporated.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips, coconut, and pecans until just incorporated.  Do not overmix.
  7. Form into balls 2 tablespoons each.
  8. Bake 12-15 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn golden.
  9. Let cool on baking sheets for about 10 minutes before removing.