By: Heather Williams
When you think sashimi, sasami, tartare, or even tataki, you may imagine a dish with a fish of some kind. Perhaps for tartare or tataki, you may even imagine beef? But what if you were offered chicken sashimi or chicken tartare? Raw chicken? Over and over we are told that chicken must be cooked to the very specific minimum temperature of 165 ⁰F. So, the big question is, “is raw chicken suddenly safe?” The general answer is NO! This is despite some of the risky chefs’ interpretation that handling chicken in a specific way makes it safe to consume raw or nearly raw. Many cases of foodborne illness result in not only raw chicken but even undercooked chicken. Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni, Clostridium perfringens, and Staphylococcus aureus are commonly bacteria that contaminate chicken.
Restaurants Serving on the Edge
Several restaurants are deciding to serve “on the edge” and risk these potentially harmful dishes for the shock factor. While rare or raw chicken is something seen in some other countries menus, United States Health Departments strongly frown upon and many times strictly prohibit this form of chicken served to the public. If it is so harmful, how can chefs justify the dish is served safely? Two restaurants have their own ways of reducing risk of illness.
Ippuku in Berkley, California serves the risqué dish, chicken tartare, served with a raw quail’s egg. Chef Christian Geiderman explains that the risk is mitigated by obtaining the freshest ingredients possible. “Freshness is really the key,” explains Geiderman. “Our chickens come in with the heads and feet on, and the rigor mortis is still so fresh in them that you can stand the chickens up by their legs.” Can’t get any fresher than that, unless you were to prepare the dish on the farm. Also, not a good idea for other safety reasons. The restaurant sources poultry from a few small farms, so they can know exactly how long ago each bird was slaughtered. The chef gives the chicken a quick bath for five or ten seconds in boiling water. This is just long enough for the outside flesh to turn white. For Ippuku, this is the only form of cooking in this dish. Chef Geiderman explains that the texture of the dish is similar to raw tuna and has a similar flavor to that of yellowfin or bigeye sashimi. The reason the chef believes the dish is safe to serve is because he uses the inner portion of the breast. He says that while chicken is prone to contamination, this portion does not come in contact with the intestinal tract where the harmful bacteria can be found. This is the portion of the chicken used at Ippuku for tartare dishes. Additionally, using a small farm makes Chef Geiderman feel more comfortable with the product being handled by fewer hands. He believes this reduces the risk of contamination.
Geiderman got the idea from a friend who runs a restaurant in Tokyo. The restaurant, named Nagomi, is just one of the Japanese restaurants serving this dish. “In big cities like Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo, it’s just run-of-the-mill,” explains Geiderman. “Almost any upscale yakitori [grilled chicken] place will also have chicken sashimi on the menu.”
Chef Albert Raurich of Dos Palillos, a Michelin-starred Spanish-Asian tapas bar located in Barcelon and Berlin serves up chicken sasami. The poultry is sourced from a small free-range farm where the birds eat grains and corn. The dish is made by marinating chicken tenderloin in ginger oil and grilling it for a maximum of two minutes about a food above a flame for a very low heat. The dish is finished with a ginger-infused soy sauce, sansho pepper, and wasabi. The dish is served hot, but raw. The flavor is “very mellow and sweet, and a bit fatty,” explains Raurich. Chef Raurich explains that many of the diners arrive eager to try anything, others are reluctant to try the dish and only give it a try after hearing about the experience they will have consuming the dish. For some very reluctant customers, the restaurant only reveals the dish as chicken after the customer has already eaten it. This of course is not in the United States, where any raw or undercooked food comes with a health alert disclaimer.
Why is Chicken a High-Risk Food?
Some say nay, while others say yay. So, what is the deal with chicken? Why is raw chicken such a high-risk food? The meat itself is not normally contaminated inside the live bird. The contamination usually comes from the gut, skin, and feet of the birds during the slaughter process. The water an ice used in processing may also become contaminated, spreading the harmful bacteria to other parts of the bird. When raw chicken is stored at low temperatures, the metabolism of the harmful bacteria slows, reducing the rate that the bacteria reproduce. This low temperature technique does not affect all bacteria though. The cold-loving bacterium Pseudomonas will eventually take over and is responsible for the smelly and slimy aspect of spoilage.
Safe Chicken Handling and Preparation
Taking a few extra precautions can help protect your family from harmful foodborne bacterial contamination.
Clean Hands and Surfaces Often
The first and most important method to reduce contamination is to wash your hands and any surfaces that come in contact with raw chicken regularly. Use hot soapy water and scrub as needed. Avoid splashing contaminated liquid onto other surfaces.
DO NOT WASH RAW POULTRY. It might be something you have seen older family members do. Rinsing or soaking does not destroy bacteria. Only cooking to an appropriate temperature can kill the harmful bacteria. The risk for additional contamination outweighs any fraction of bacteria that might be washed away. Contaminated juices and water can splash onto other surfaces, spreading the bacteria to other unsuspecting areas of the kitchen.
Separate Raw Meats and Poultry from Other Foods
DO NOT STORE ready to eat foods and raw meats in the same area. Ready to eat foods such as fruits and vegetables or cooked foods should not come into contact with raw foods. To kill bacteria, it must be heated to an appropriate temperature.
COOK TO INTERNAL TEMPERATURE OF 165 ⁰F. Poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165⁰F measured with a food thermometer. Color is not an indicator of doneness and touch is not a sufficient measure of temperature. Cook time is also a common measure of doneness, but does not ensure food safety. The USDA recommends this internal temperature as appropriate for killing harmful bacteria.
Raw meat should be refrigerated promptly. Cooked foods should be refrigerated to 40 ⁰F or below within two hours after cooking. If the ambient temperature is over 90 ⁰F, food should be refrigerated within one hour.
Worth the Risk?
Do you think consuming raw chicken is worth the risk? If a fancy restaurant you’ve been dying to try offers it on the menu, do you go for it? For me, I will pass. I like my chicken WELL-DONE.