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Rinsing chicken with vinegar? Cultural thing?

  • c

My BF grew up in Suriname and always (I Mean ALWAYS) rinses chicken and seafood with vinegar (red wine, white wine or cider, even plain white, really doesn't matter which). In fact, he'll ask me if I did the same when I do the cooking. Has anyone ever heard of this? At first he said this was due to cleanliness. Vinegar would kill germs (?). I then, rather obnoxiously, explained that chicken from the modern supermarket is not like grabbing one running around the streets of Suriname's capital city, and that FDA regulations will help deliver consumers a clean bird. So then he said it affects the 'texture' of the meat. I think it is a childhood comfort thing, or maybe cultural - the ladies he grew up with did it. Anyone ever hear of anything like this in other cultures?

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  1. Not only chickens, but goat, lamb and veal too. Marcella Hazen rinses the lamb before making lamb stew but doesn't explain why. And she's Italian. But you don't see that in many other Italian cookbooks. Maybe it a generational thing. Marcella appears to be about 60+ or so. My Dad, who is 72 always rinsed the chicken livers in vinegar, but not the whole chicken.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Karen

      a lot of cultures specify washing poultry rubbing it with lemon, vinegar, garlic etc to freshen it before starting the cooking process. I am thinking specifically of some of the moroccan and indian cookbooks I have. I would say its a fine point that has fallen out in a lot of modern cooking, but the washing and drying treatment is a given in most carefully written recipes.

    2. re: "FDA regulations will help deliver consumers a clean bird"

      You can't count on the "cook-it-to-death-for-your-own-safety" USDA for that, I'm afraid. Processing conditions are pretty appalling, but for the most part, the USDA puts it off on consumers by telling them they'll be fine if they cook everything hot/long enough. True though that may be, I myself would prefer eating something other than overcooked meat with a lot of now-dead bacteria on it, if it's all the same to them! Unfortunately, like-minded consumers and I cant' match lobbying budgets with industry...

      I have trouble imagining that a simple vinegar _rinse_ would change the texture all that much, but as a marinade it certainly tenderizes flesh-protein of all kinds. If you let it sit too long, in too strong a solution, in fact, the surface can get kind of unpleasantly mushy and some cuisines rely on acids to "cook" (ie, fully denature the proteins in) fish and shellfish, or to preserve it after cooking.

      In your BF's case, though, I suspect it's more habit/cultural - if he can't tell whether you've done it or not unless you tell him, there's obviously not a dramatic difference. Which may be in part because that chicken running down the street (or pig rooting around the yard, etc.) would be a lot tougher than the commercial meat we get in supermarkets here. More flavorful too, I'm sure, but certainly tougher as well.

      3 Replies
      1. re: MikeG

        Funny how you mention that he can't tell because I used to lie to him that I had in fact rinsed it when I didn't. Somehow it slipped out. (OK it was more like, "And guess what? I have NEVER rinsed a single piece of meat I have ever cooked for you in that stupid vinegar!") So now I have to literally walk over to where he is with a piece of meat, bottle of vinegar and a bowl so that I can perform the sacred act in front of him.

        Yeah, we're a piece of work the two of us....

        1. re: chowgal

          I dunno, doesn't seem like a big deal if you (like me) rinse your meat anyway before you cook it.

          I put it in a clean colander and rinse it in the sink with cool water, no matter what it is (except for ground meat or sausage).

          Whole chicken or any meat with a cavity I rinse extra well.

          If you think American food is so clean that sanitation is never an issue, read (or watch) Fast Food Nation.

      2. Oh good, this allows me to expand on my prior post about only heat eliminating pathogens in food. Pathogens also have difficulty living in a high acid (low pH) environment such as vinegar. When your BF explains it also affect the texture, he is absolutely correct. One important element in cooking is the process of breaking down proteins. When your marinate a protein in an acid environment, you have actually started the cooking process--that is the breaking down of the protein. Leave fish, chicken or meat in a marinade too long and it turns to mush. Things like pure white vinegar and lemon juice are awfully strong acids.

        Don't dismiss the cultural thing. Since time immemorial and long before the USDA and refrigeration, societies have learned how to foil the pathogens. These rituals usually exist for a reason.

        1 Reply
        1. re: dk

          I very highly doubt that a simple rinse in vinegar would be enough time to break down any protein. If you marinate it for a few hours, sure, but a simple rinse, not really. For a comparison, imagine making ceviche and eating it right after you put it into the acid, definitely not going to be "cooked."

        2. My parents are Jamaican and I was born here in the US. I was taught that I have to clean my chicken with lemon, lime or vinegar before I season it or whatever. I always clean my chicken with lemon. I squeeze the lemon over it and then rinse it with cold water. Then I season or cook or whatever I do with it. I think it is very cultural. When my mother watches the cooking shows, she gets really upset when she doesn't see them cleaning chicken. I have to say though, cleaning it, to me, takes out that raw chicken smell from it. It's definitely cultural because Caribbean people all clean their chicken like that.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Tracey

            I live in Jamaica now and it drives me crazy when they have to rinse the chicken in lemon or vinegar. They can hardly afford what they have to eat and waste the vinegar to rinse chicken?? In fact I've found that they usually need to BORROW vinegar from me to run it over the chicken and down the drain.

            1. re: simmosl1

              Poor people not wanting to die of food-borne illness in a tropical country where disease easily spreads drives you crazy? maybe you need to move...

              1. re: simmosl1

                Not sure about the Vinegar but most West Indians wash not only chicken, but just about all fresh meat and fish with lime or lemon juice, It was explained to me that it was done to get rid of any "Rank" odors and/or tastes.I do the very same thing to this day.

            2. I soak everything in a 1/2 white vinegar and water mix, then rinse in water. Meat and chicken and some fish is sort of a rinse, but I do clean everything in it. Homeopathic advise.