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What, How, & When to Truss or Tie


Chris Amirault
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For the first many years of my cooking, I never trussed anything; my splayed birds and roasts waved their freak flag high. In the last few years, however, I admitted that this was avoidance and not intent, and started trying to learn what and when to truss. This butt crack was likely the final straw:

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So I poured over a bunch of books describing trussing techniques and am now at the point where I actually enjoy tying off a roast, chicken, or even a few short ribs for the fun of it:

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So I'm wondering who else is trussing or tying, how they're doing it, what they're doing it to or with. I'll admit that I often find the twine question tricky: cotton is often too thick, whereas linen is often too weak.

Chris Amirault

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What I'd like to see is a pictorial demonstration of your tying technique. It's beautiful. I, as I have mentioned, tie short ribs. I trust chickens, but not turkeys.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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What I'd like to see is a pictorial demonstration of your tying technique. It's beautiful. I, as I have mentioned, tie short ribs. I trust chickens, but not turkeys.

Never thought of chickens as anymore trustworthy than turkeys, Marlene.

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I've never learned to truss or tie correctly, which is probably one reason I avoid it whenever possible. I tend to spatchcock chickens, which obviates the need for (or possibility of) trussing. Years ago, I decided to make a boned stuffed leg of lamb for Easter dinner, and not knowing anything about the anatomy of the leg or the technique of tying, I used at least 724 feet of twine to subdue the thing. Not my proudest moment.

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What I'd like to see is a pictorial demonstration of your tying technique. It's beautiful.

Thanks! I just undid one of the ribs and retied it while the video camera was rolling:

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Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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About a year ago, I started tying up chickens before I roast them. It's about the only thing I bother with, but given how much better the birds are tied up it makes me think I should be breaking out the string more often.

I've been using cotton kite string. Not sure where I got it, but I probably picked it up at the drugstore last summer.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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I think trussing makes sense for roasting chickens on a spit in front of a fire; that's what the technique was developed for. Everything I've read in favor of trussing an oven roasted bird fails in terms of physics and logic (and in comparison to an untrussed bird done the same way). I think the chefs that insist on trussing do so for esthetic reasons; a trussed bird is prettier. The rest is rationalization.*

Here's why: the challenge to cooking a whole bird lies in the different cooking temperatures of the white and dark meat. The white meat is leaner and is actually a different muscle fiber type; it's done at round 10°F lower than the dark meat. But the dark meat actually comes to temperature more slowly, because the folds of the leg against the torso create the thickest section of flesh on the bird.

Trussing pins the legs against the torso, effectively making that part of the bird even thicker. It eliminates airflow between the legs and torso, and covers a fair amount of surface area, making browning there impossible.

Sometimes I'll have a bird that's so floppy that legs will hang against the edge of the pan and tend to scorch there. If that's the case, I'll do a very loose truss ... just enough to get the legs to behave a bit, but not enough to disrupt airflow.

Incidentally, there was a practice developed for spit roasting that we've discarded, but shouldn't have: barding. Birds used to be covered with a thin layer of fat (like pork belly or bacon). Smart chefs then figured out they could get perfectly cooked birds by barding just the breast meat, and removing the barding around halfway through cooking. This technique works as well in the oven as it does on a spit, and has resulted in the only perfectly cooked birds I've ever had. If you don't want to go all out with bacon, a trippled sheet of foil works as well, if not as tastilly.

*Julia child said that untrussed bird looks "wanton." Maybe it's the generation gap, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

Notes from the underbelly

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Another reason to tie birds for roasting is to keep the stuffing or aromatics in. It also makes it easy to keep the wings tucked in, so they don't burn. I also do it for chickens to be poached, tying a long end of the string to the handle of the pot, so it will be easy to remove.

I've always done it without a trussing needle, starting from the legs in the middle of a long piece of twine, crossing over and then around, and it holds everything together. I've refined that technique over the years, so it works pretty reliably. I'll make a video when I'm back in New York.

I also tie roasts of various sorts, particularly if they've been boned, so they cook evenly, and I've gotten better at making a running butcher's knot for things like pancetta or rolled roasts of various sorts.

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I think trussing makes sense for roasting chickens on a spit in front of a fire; that's what the technique was developed for. Everything I've read in favor of trussing an oven roasted bird fails in terms of physics and logic (and in comparison to an untrussed bird done the same way). I think the chefs that insist on trussing do so for esthetic reasons; a trussed bird is prettier. The rest is rationalization.

I remembered that Thomas Keller wrote quite a bit about trussing and looked it up. First, he devotes a page to the subject, titled "The Importance of Trussing Chicken" from The French Laundry Cookbook:

Position the chicken so that its cavity faces you. Place the center of a 2-foot-long piece of butcher's string beneath the chicken's tail, the little triangle at the bottom of the cavity. Lift the string up outside each leg and pull it down between the legs, reversing the direction of each end so that they cross. Pull the string over the thighs (the drumsticks should squeeze together at this point) and the wings. Maintaining tension on the string, turn the chicken on its side, wind the ends of the string over the neck, and tie securely.

Trussing a chicken this way will help it cook more evenly, as it should protect the thinnest part of the breast, the part that is most likely to overcook during roasting. I like to roast a chicken at a high temperature, between 425F and 450F, because I've found the faster I cook the legs, the moister the breast will be.

To Paul's point, he adds, "Even a perfectly roasted chicken will inevitably result in a breast that a litle less moist than one you would cook separately, which is why I always want a sauce with roast chicken."

Then, in Bouchon, the trussing directions are a bit different:

[P]lace one chicken on a tray with the legs toward you. Tuck the wing tips under the bird. Cut a piece of kitchen twine about 3 feet long and center it on top of the neck end of teh breast. Lift the neck end of the bird and pull the twine down around the wings and under the chicken, then bring the ends up over the breast, toward you, and knot the twine, pulling it tight to plump the breast. Bring the ends of the twine around the ends of the drumsticks and straight up. Tie as before to pull the drumsticks together and form a compact bird; tie again to secure the knot.

He then proceeds with his roasting method (hot oil in hot skillets, breast up, legs toward the back of the oven at 475F until thighs are 155F, baste, etc.), which is built to take advantage of the trussing by placing the thighs on the oiled skillet.

I can't quite follow his directions consistently, to be honest, but the trick of using the skillet provides a well-shaped, well-cooked trussed bird.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Nice job Chris, here's another way to truss:

Thanks. I've never seen that twist before; when I do the slipknot at the top and then loop down like that, I have to thread the twine through the loop. This method allows you to keep your spool of twine uncut until you're done. Bravo!

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Great videos!

Like David, I truss to keep aromatics in a roasted bird, but otherwise I rarely bother.

However, if I'm browning a bird on top of the stove, it's sure a lot easier to turn if the legs are secure and not flopping around. That also helps keep the browned skin from splitting where the leg is attached, which is likely to happen otherwise.


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here's another way to truss:

Nice! I've read descriptions and watched videos on how to do this that were never clear enough for me to get a grip on it, but this one is. I'll have to practice with a roast now...

nunc est bibendum...

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I don't truss birds, but sometimes, especially for the Thanksgiving turkey, I do a "self-truss" I guess you could call it. I tuck the wings behind the bird's back and cut a slit just below the tail in that extra bit of skin and bring it up and around the ends of the legs. I have to say, though, that most of the time, like paulraphael, I don't like a trussed chicken or turkey. It's drier in the white meat and not enough of the skin is crispy; I've never had a problem with the aromatics coming out of one either.

Where I think trussing is important is for large, oddly-shaped roasts. If you want the meat to be the same doneness all the way through, trussing is the only way to go. Then again, if you have guests/diners who want everything from rare to well-done, then you don't really need to.

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

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great videos, thanks! I never used to truss a chicken until I read the French Laundry cookbook, though I was not really clear on what to do. I tried for a while, then I read some other great cookbook (and I can't remember which now, but also from a top restaurant) where they never do this, so that the hot air can get into the cavity and the legs are surrounded by as much heat as possible. Somehow that made sense to me and I stopped trussing. I have a chicken ready to roast tonight and won't use any string on it again, but I'm also expecting Ad Hoc At Home in the mail this week, where I guess one can find a step by step instruction.

I never stuff my birds except maybe throwing some herbs and lemon pieces in there. I used to do that, but somewhat agree with the idea that it will take a long time to cook the stuffing all the way through, by which time the chicken is probably overdone.

The Big Sur Bakery book now debones the legs before roasting, I won't do that tonight, I think I'll rather first go there and it their version. It seems to make sense as there's less "stuff" to heat through, but I can't imagine how one would then grab the leg like a caveman and have a go at it. And that's just something that's part of a good roast chicken to me, since I was a little kid! Of course, my boy caught on to that, luckily my wife prefers the wing and breast. Just hoping my daughter will follow the mom, otherwise I'll have to have somebody breed three-legged chicken! Or roast two :-)

I will however remember that hand under and twist move for other things, that's really neat!

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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I actually truss pretty much everything I'm roasting these days. If I'm cooking in a friends kitchen and they don't have cotton string, I just use dental floss. It works like a charm. I find that when I truss birds and even tie up all my pork and beef roasts, it cooks nicely and the shape is much more manageable and looks great too!

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