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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.

              1. Yes it’s cultural, and cleansing meat is so important. Most Caribbean people also clean ALL of their meat and fish with lime lemon or vinegar. In Fish it cuts that strong fishy smell and flavors the fish. In all meat the acid from the vinegar lemon or lime....kills the bacteria....also ground beef should be soaked in the vinegar...meat can have spillage from the intestine of the animal or it falls on the floor or contaminated knives cut the meat. These are things most people don't think about. I am so afraid of eating out...because you know the cooks don't clean the meat. I just wrote to a television cook ( they grouse me out ) she was cooking ribs she took and season the ribs right in the butcher package you could see the plastic rap with the price tag on it ..after seasoning one side she dumped the ribs out of the pack right in to the baking pan and seasoned the other side...now you know (I just was so disgusted I wrote to the show (semi home made) I was disgusted...people who eat raw or rear meats are the ones who get sick from eating unclean meats....I know most people say it's cooked at 350 degree oven..But you are eating 350 degrees of filth. I know by now you know this is one of my peeves. Chow gal listen to him you will avoid getting sick....Dont trust the FDA

                4 Replies
                1. re: jflemming

                  How will 350 degrees of filth hurt you?

                  1. re: jflemming

                    I think I see where the lemming part of your screen name comes from. ;-) Au contraire, it's the germaphobes who most often get sick. The rest of us, by occasionally challenging our immune systems with some unfriendly bacteria, build up their ability to prevent us from experiencing unpleasant symptons. The general scientific consensus is that ultra-clean environments contribute to the increasing frequency of allergies and auto-immune diseases. Studies, for example, show that children who grow up around farm animals are seldom plagued by these problems. I don't trust the FDA but I do trust common sense, and mine tells me that everyone needs to eat some germs now and then. The only rinsing I do is when there's slime on the cold cuts or leftover cooked meats.

                    It's cooking, not rinsing, that kills germs in chicken. Vinegar's acid will kill some germs, but you probably spread the remaining ones around when you rinse off the vinegar, creating more risk than if the chicken went straight from package to pan:
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7229...

                    1. re: greygarious

                      you're not washing it in water though, you're washing it in vinegar. That study never addressed rinsing food in any acidic medium. Also, an interesting question that nobody asked was if the bacteria ON the chicken was not harmful in the first place, why would it suddenly become harmful if left on the counter?

                      Furthermore there's a difference between exposure to some germs and exposure to an high and unsafe concentration of bacteria. Considering the shit job that the FDA and the USDA does of looking out for our safety, it's not unlikely that a straight out of the packing chicken is probably crawling with unsafe pathogens. So why risk getting food poisoning when a 5 minute rinse isn't that big of a deal?

                      1. re: greygarious

                        I ws just about to say this! It's like how the germaphobs today are getting the common diseases that are rarely seen -- their immune systems STOPPED building antibodies for certain germs!

                        Germs and bacteria can get inside meat. I'm assuming those who are paranoid about washing their chicken and beef with vinegar/lime probably also eat their steaks well done too?

                        That said, I *DO* rinse my meats with water. And it's more just to rinse off dirt or whatever... not to kill off bacteria. That's why I cook my meat.

                    2. When I was a kid, I worked at a restaurant, well a fast food place, that served a lot of fried chicken.

                      We routinely washed the chicken with vinegar and water to get rid of any blood smell that had accumulated on the chicken. It was also how we could tell if the chicken had gone bad. If it smelled after the vinegar rinse it was bad.

                      I know when I go to the store, the packaging collects a lot of blood, so it isn't going to hurt anything or effect the flavor especially if you rinse with clean water after the vinegar/water rinse.

                      I can't see a problem rinsing any meat with vinegar and water and then rinsing again with clean water.

                      Your boy friend is just particular because of where he was raised. In most parts of the world they sell chicken hanging in an open air market. I would want to rinse that chicken.

                      1. Hi, have Surinamese decent and live in Amsterdam. The reason why we wash chicken or any other meat in vinegar is to get the germs killed in the first place. Second, to get rid of that "animal smell". Chicken can have a distasteful animal smell or taste to it even when it is cooked, especially a whole chicken. Same goes for pork, I like porkchops when it doesnt have that nasty animal taste or smell. Once you have washed your chicken in a vinegar bath with some water, and see what dirt is left behind, you will probably never want to have "unwashed" chicken again.

                        1. I have seen this recommended in South Asian home cooking, too. The vinegar or lime/lemon juice kills the bad smells and cleans the meat. Some people prefer lime/lemon only and say that vinegar toughens the meat. Interesting info in this thread. I have picked up the habit and use vinegar on fish and sometimes if I buy and freeze chicken I prepare it with turmeric (also purported to kill smell and germs), red chile powder, and lime juice and then store it in the freezer. There are huge numbers of South Asians in the Caribbean, so I wonder if this is S. Asian influence. The South Asian presence in the Caribbean deeply influenced West Indian cuisine, too, so why not food prep?

                          1. I'm glad I saw this thread. I had posted on a different one that I'd been doing this forever (lemon juice or vinegar) but I couldn't remember where I picked it up from, didn't know if anyone else did it either. I'd forgotten about a cooking lesson I had with my grandmother before passing and I'd also learned how to clean squid, I was about 12. She was Italian and I too do this with poultry, fish, lamb, veal and pork. I always felt that at the very least it gets the slime off from the meat. I don't know if it's cultural, but not everyone does this.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: lilgi

                              This week I do see why Jamaicans might wash their chicken in vinegar. I did not buy GOOD chicken but went to the little meat shop that sells unbranded. Yes, the chicken DID smell bad and I washed it in vinegar. However with the cheap chicken it still smells during the cooking so the washing didn't help a lot. I'll just make sure from now on I buy a better grade of meat and then the washing in vinegar is not needed. Actually I threw away almost 5 pounds of chicken because of the quality.

                            2. I dated a Filipina when I was in the Navy. She diced up raw chicken, onions, garlic, fresh jalepeno peppers added a little bit of fresh shaved ginger and about a quarter cup of white vinegar. She set it in the fridge and pulled it out the next day for dinner. I asked about cooking it and she said the jalepeno juice and vinegar cooked it. The onion and garlic protected it from bacteria while the juices cooked it. The reason italians like garlic and onion so much is the anti-bacterial effect. In roman times they would rub there meat down with a garlic/onion paste and then salt them. It would hold meat for 2 days in the summer and up to a week in the winter.

                              1. Mama always taught me that if the chicken was any less than perfectly fresh, a good wash with white vinegar would kill the smell and make it cookable... but it's better get it in the freezer asap after it's bought so you don't have to worry about it!

                                1. Growing up in a Caribbean household ..taught me how to clean raw chicken with lemon or lime with salt..

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: salsatraigoyo

                                    All "rank odors" on any protein are caused by a gas that begins to form on the surface of the meat the minute the animal dies.
                                    The gas is nature's way of calling all local insects to 'COME AND GET IT!'
                                    The insects lay their eggs the eggs hatch and the baby insects use the now rotting flesh as their dinner service. Kool eh?
                                    Any acid will wash away the formed gas laying on the surface. For us humans that means we aren't then smelling the beginning of the rotting process.