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Poaching Chicken - any tips?

Last night I was craving something comforting and bland (in a good way), so I decided to poach a chicken breast to use as one of the components of my meal. I brought some chicken stock (which had previously been slightly salted) to the boil, added an onion, peppercorns, bay leaf, a cinnamon stick, reduced to a simmer, then added my chicken breast (whole), covered the pot and left it for 15 - 20 mins. When it was done I removed it and sliced it (width-wise, which I'm not sure was the best choice) and because I thought it looked a touch dry I covered it with a little of the poaching liquid while preparing the rest of the dish. In the end it was tasty and quite tender, but I thought it could have been better - more tender, more juicy, just somehow softer. Taste was fine - but texturally there was room for improvement.

After that long-winded intro, here's my question: does anyone out there know how I can try to achieve perfection, or near-perfection, when it comes to poaching a chicken breast? It seems kind of trivial in the grand scheme of things, but when you're eating something with subtle flavours and few ingredients, every component has to be as good as it can possibly be, no?

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  1. You probably overcooked it, and cooked it too high. Make sure you're cooking at a simmer where the surface of the broth is steaming, but there are no bubbles. And you want to cook it until it is just done, and no longer. A meat thermometer could help here, or just remove and slice into it after 10 min to see if it's done, and fool around with the times until you get it just right.

    1. Poach for up to 15 minutes. You want the point where the breast is just cooked but not over done (and dry). You don't need anything but water - the breasts don't pick up much from what you put in the water. Finally, shredding by hand somehow tastes softer and moister than sliced.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        It does pick up aromatic notes, so onion/garlic/shallots and fennel can impart a bit of flavor, and sweet spices like star anise, cloves and cinnamon do a bit more.

        1. re: tmso

          And I've found that it picks up a slight lemony flavor if you add lemon juice to the water.

      2. I've used a technique for years that works great for me. Put chicken breasts in a pot, cover generously with water, bring to a boil, cover pot and remove from heat. After ten minutes it is almost always done when I cut into it. If not, I put it back in the hot water, cover and leave for a few more minutes. I see no reason you could use stock and the seasonings you mention. The chicken is so moist and tender that way and not overcooked.

        4 Replies
        1. re: c oliver

          I use your same technique, though I use chicken broth flavored with a goodly amount of soy sauce as the poaching liquid. I find large breasts take about 12 minutes of standing time. Perfection.

          1. re: c oliver

            This is my method too; never fails.

            1. re: c oliver

              This method works like a charm every time.

              1. re: C. Hamster

                I don't really know why anyone would want to do more than this, do you? So moist and cooked perfectly. I use it for salads, sandwiches, anything.

            2. Peppercorns were nice, a bay leaf, some fresh herbs whatever is in my garden, thyme, oregano and basil usually and onion is great, I use a mix of wine and broth, I know it doesn't always soak up, but I think it does help. I use just a small pan so not to waste too much chicken, but you can do 3-4 in a larger pot and keep. Makes great chicken salad or a stir fry or quesadillas, or even just a burger types of sandwich. Why make 1 make a couple. Cut the other way I think too, but not that critical. Definitely what I do, I put the liquid on the burner and add the chicken and let set 15-30 minutes before turning the heat on, then turn on medium and high and bring the heat up, then immediately reduce and cook 10 minutes on a low simmer. Don't over cook, that is all that it sounds like you did. The broth by the way is fine. I was just giving you my 2 cents. Also the heat. Just simmer, not high heat. That is why I bring it up to a boil in the pan, the inside cooks at the same time rather than the outside first.

              I make a soup, by all means not traditional, I have made it accordingly to recipe, but this is sort of my quick recipe. Broth, some shitaki mushrooms, scallions, I like some thin sliced red pepper, seasoning I know not traditional and some chicken. I pour this over some soba noodles. It is far from traditional but It is really good, simple (bland) as you said but flavorful. Sometimes I get online and get a few spices I should add, but it usually is a very late night, leftovers and anything that takes 15 minutes to make. It still is comforting and uses poaches chicken perfectly.

              1. I have had great results by gently simmering the chicken in a covered pot for 10-15 minutes and then removing the pot from the heat and letting the chicken sit covered for an additional 45 minutes. Always tender and buttery.

                1 Reply
                1. re: chanterelle

                  that would be similar, just as good I would think.