When prepping raw chicken breasts for the grill, have you ever come across an unsightly vein in the meat? If not, you’re lucky. The phenomenon is fairly common, but fortunately, it doesn’t pose a serious problem. Let’s take a closer look.
Vein In Chicken Breast
When you spot a vein in your chicken breast, it’s usually located near the bone in the tenderloin section. While the veins are harmless, they can cause discoloration that’s off-putting to some diners. You can remove the veins either before or after you cook the chicken, but it’s easier to do so beforehand.
What is Vein in Chicken Breast?
Chicken breast is a meat product, as you’re probably aware. That means you’re bound to encounter blood or veins from time to time.
In fact, all chicken breasts have veins in them. It’s just that they’re more visible in some specimens than others. For example, if the chicken is still on the bone, you’re more likely to notice the veins than you would if it were a boneless cut.
On a similar note, the veins are typically located either between segments of muscle or near the bone. That’s one of the reasons why you’re bound to notice the veins that run alongside the bone portion.
What do these veins look like? Most of the time, it will be a pink or dark red line running through the breast. Sometimes, the blood will be dark purple in color.
Veins are an important component of muscle tissue. As such, it’s perfectly normal to encounter them in poultry or other meat products. What’s more, you don’t need to worry about removing them, unless you don’t care for the appearance.
What Makes The Veins More Noticeable?
The vein in your chicken breast might be practically invisible, or you might be able to see it from the other side of the room. The difference depends on a number of factors.
First of all, the vein might have been more prominent to begin with. There’s not much you can do to get around this problem, except to remove the vein if you find its presence bothersome.
The butchering process plays an important role as well. Some butchers will be more careful when dividing up the carcass, removing any parts that might affect the appearance of the packaged meat.
As we mentioned, the vein will also be more visible near the bone. A number of chemical changes take place between the bone marrow and the hemoglobin in the blood vessels. These can make the vein appear more prominent.
Finally, although we’re here to discuss the phenomenon as it relates to chicken breast, be aware that you’re more likely to spot veins in the dark meat. If you’ve purchased thighs, drumsticks or wings, there will probably be a number of visible veins present.
About Chicken Tenderloin
You won’t always see it advertised as chicken tenderloin, but as the name suggests, this portion of the chicken breast is exceptionally tender and juicy. Sometimes butchers label them as “chicken tenders,” which is a term that’s also favored by restaurants.
The tenderloin makes up about 2/3 of the entire breast. If you look closely, you can usually see a line running through the breast, which separates the tenderloin from the upper portion.
Once the tenderloin has been separated from the breast, you’ll find an ivory-colored tendon lining one side. The tendon is usually thicker on one end, but it may run through the entire tenderloin.
It’s not necessary to remove the tendon, as it will shrink and soften as the meat cooks. However, some chefs prefer to do so, believing that the meat looks more aesthetically pleasing without it.
If there’s a vein in the chicken breast, it can often be found around the tendon. Most of the time, though, you won’t even notice the vein once you’ve cooked off the meat.
Does Vein in Chicken Breast Affect The Results?
As we just pointed out, the vein usually doesn’t have any adverse effects on the cooked chicken.
You might notice that the meat is discolored around the spot where the vein is. The blood may turn purple or dark brown as the chicken turns opaque and white, which makes it more visible. But the flavor shouldn’t be affected.
You might also be wondering if there are any health risks involved. After all, the hazards of eating undercooked poultry been drummed into us for years. (For more information on safe temperatures for chicken and other poultry, see the section below).
Even if the vein in your chicken breast remains pink or red, however, you can rest easy. As long as the meat cooks to a safe internal temperature, the vein won’t do you any harm.
In truth, every cut of meat that we eat contains veins, although most are so small as to be virtually invisible. These smaller veins are called capillaries, and they’re as harmless as the other veins.
What’s Considered a Safe Temperature for Chicken Breast?
In order to be safe to consume, chicken breast needs to cook to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. These are the guidelines set forth by the USDA.
At 165 degrees, the types of bacteria that lead to food poisoning are wiped out in a matter of seconds. While they may also die off at lower temps, it takes a while for that to happen. It’s best to cook the meat to 165, just to be on the safe side.
Try to remove chicken breast from the heat when it hits the 160-degree mark. The breast is white meat, which means it will dry out if it cooks too far past this point. As the meat rests, it should come up to the safe temperature of 165 degrees.
Is It Safe To Eat Chicken That’s Pink Inside?
Although many new chefs are tempted to rely on color to tell when meat is done, the only way to be sure is to test the internal temperature using a meat thermometer.
Chicken can be safe to eat even if there’s still a tinge of pink inside. On the other end of the spectrum, it might look completely cooked while still registering an internal temperature that’s below the safe point.
Make sure to calibrate your meat thermometer regularly to ensure that it displays an accurate temperature. Also, be careful not to touch any bone when you’re testing the temp, as this will throw off the numbers.
Can You Avoid The Vein?
Although we might know intellectually that the vein isn’t doing any harm where it is, the sight of it can be unappealing. Personally, I prefer to avoid it whenever possible. If I see the vein in a chicken breast that’s packaged for sale, I’ll avoid that package.
If you’ve found a reputable butcher, they should be able to produce chicken breasts that don’t have a large purplish vein running through them. You can even specify that you’d prefer them to remove the veins before wrapping the meat for you.
Again, opting for boneless chicken can help you avoid those unsightly veins as well. While the bone provides flavor and moisture, you’re more likely to encounter veins and other problem spots when you prepare bone-in poultry.
How To Remove the Vein in Chicken Breast
Even if the butcher left the veins where they were, you can still cut them out yourself. All you need is a sharp knife, a clean cutting board, and a little bit of time and patience.
It’s easier to remove the vein when the meat is raw. Since you’ll probably want to trim the meat anyway, it’s a good idea to take this step before you season the chicken for the grill.
The first thing you need to do is locate the larger, thicker end of the breast. If the breast has been butchered properly, it will have one thick rounded end and one thinner end that tapers to a point.
On this thicker end of the breast, you’ll find some tissue that’s white to pale yellow in color. That’s the cartilage that was responsible for adhering the breast muscle to the bone.
Take hold of the cartilage in one hand and slide a sharp knife beneath it with the other. Pull the cartilage away firmly, with a steady hand. It won’t come away easily, but you’ll get the hang of it with practice.
If there’s any gristle connected to the cartilage, carve that away as well. You might lose a bit of meat in the process, so use your judgement as to whether it’s worth it to trim these bits off.
Check the site where the cartilage was connected to the meat. Do you see any bloody spots? If so, that’s where you need to do your trimming. The veins should be located in this general area.
Trim away as much fat and gristle as you’d like, then rinse the breasts under cold running water. This will help to remove any blood that’s still clinging to the meat. Pat the chicken dry using paper towels.
Removing The Vein From Cooked Chicken Breast
While the vein might be more visible in cooked chicken, it will also be harder to remove without shredding the meat. That’s why it’s better to trim the vein away before cooking.
If you do want to remove the vein from the cooked chicken breast, use the following technique. For bone-in meat, you’ll have to remove the whole breast from the bone before you begin.
Use your fingers to separate the tenderloin from the outer portion of the breast. Since this larger outside section shouldn’t contain any veins, carve it and set it aside.
Working carefully, slide a sharp knife beneath the vein, moving it slowly upwards and away from the tenderloin. The meat will be so tender that it may fall apart as you work, but it should still taste delicious.
The Bottom Line
The vein in chicken breast is a normal occurrence, but that doesn’t mean you have to look at it. If it bothers you, feel free to remove it either before or after you cook the chicken.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!