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Keeping Skin from Shrinking

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2008

Achieving moist, crisp skin, usually comes at a price. Is there a way to get both without chicken skin shrinkage?

PROBLEM: While creating our recipe for Stovetop Roast Chicken, we tried a variety of approaches to achieve both moist meat and perfectly crisp skin. One method, steaming the raw chicken in broth and then searing it in a hot pan, skin-side down, crisped the skin but shrunk it to half its size.

EXPLANATION: Chicken skin is composed of protein, fat, and water. When steamed (which occurs at a relatively low temperature of about 212 degrees), the fat slowly renders out, water evaporates, and the proteins tighten, causing the skin to shrink dramatically.

SOLUTION: We seared the chicken first, then steamed it. Searing at a very high temperature (close to 500 degrees) causes the proteins inside the skin to rapidly crosslink, setting the skin into a firm shape before it has time to shrink. Even subsequent steaming will not lead to major shrinkage.