HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Chicken Breasts for Salad - Best Prep?

I'm making salads topped with chicken tonight and was curious as to how you prep the breasts. I was going to just poach, but am open to suggestions!


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Loved poached. Honey-mustard grilled?

      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Me too. Actually, I cut the heat off, and watch them like a hawk. Get them out after checking for pink or use a probe thermometer if you're not comfortable. The steam actually does a wonderful job at keeping them moist. I had lobster once steamed in a Chinese restaurant, and they had added mint, it was the most delicious thing I'd ever had. Delicate and back notes of mint. I know that sounds different, but it was sooo good. I'm thinking it would work with the chicken?

      2. I'll vote for poached as well. I do the boneless breasts in a large stockpot of unsalted boiling water. Once I add the breasts, I allow the water to just return to a boil, cover, turn off the heat and let them steep for 4 to 5 hours. Exponentially juicy!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Chefpaulo

          I don't have quite 4 to 5 hours, but I can definitely let them steep while we take the small fry for a walk. I'm always worried about overcooking when I poach. (Usually because I'm trying to bathe said small fry whilst cooking.)

          1. re: CurlieGlamourGirlie

            They only need to simmer for 20 minutes or steep for maybe 30. And do shred rather than cube.

        2. I definitely am with the "poach" crowd AND I've read that shredding the chicken after poaching is better for the salad than cutting it into cubes...there was a thread about that recently on this board--I have yet to try it.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Val

            Val, i think that discussion about shredding the chicken was more for when you're making a chicken salad with a binder/dressing (like egg salad, potato salad, etc), rather than when using the chicken to top a green or vegetable salad...but sometimes it's nice that way too!

          2. When I poach I add carrot, celery and onion, in chunks; and boil 'em up for about 30 minutes. Then I add the breasts (preferably with skin-on) and simmer for a while. And then, like @chefpaulo does, let 'em steep for a few hours, getting to room temp.

            If you wanted to get really fancy (and you have a grill pan or gas grill) you could fire it up really hot and put grill marks on the cooked breasts - for added eye and flavor appeal.

            You can grill chicken to chill and use for salads; the chicken should be brined first so it stays juicy.

            1 Reply
            1. re: shaogo

              i'm also a poacher, but several hours is overkill, unless the pieces are enormous.

              and i also always add aromatics, depending on the salad, ginger is nice in the liquid, sub out some wine for some water, or use chicken stock.

            2. Gently braised...grilled and sliced....fried chicken fingers are three suggestions to top salads.

              2 Replies
                1. re: CurlieGlamourGirlie

                  Probably a poor choice of words on my part...Braising usually/sometimes involves browning meat prior to cooking, and usually uses less water --- Poaching and/or simmering would have been better choices of words as they use more water...the food is often completely submerged...and cooked somewhere just South of 212*...All are moist heat cooking methods....The key point is just don't "boil" your poultry...It will cause the meat to toughen....Sorry for any confusion.

                  Tonight try grilling the breast...allow to cool...slice and serve on top of your salad...
                  Grilled Chicken Salad...one of my favorites!!!


              1. Braise - in the oven - 300F - deep, covered container like a casserole dish. Place the meat in the container. Then add liquid (water or broth or a mix) half way up the side of the meat. Add aromatics if you want. Cover and cook about 1 hour per pound.

                5 Replies
                1. re: KiltedCook

                  Oooh - that's easy and small fry friendly. I could do some serious multi-tasking while braising!

                  1. re: CurlieGlamourGirlie

                    Braising is usually used for tougher meats when you want to break down connective tissue. Chicken breasts aren't usually braised.

                    1. re: CurlieGlamourGirlie

                      Sam's right. Braising is definitely not a technique for chicken breasts. It is intended for tough cuts of meat. Cooking at a low temp for a long time to make it tender.

                      Chix breasts are already tender. Cooking them for longer than they need to get done only dries them out. Even if you cook in liquid. Heat drives the mouisture out of the meat (think of making chicken broth).

                      You need to cook chicken breasts quickly until just done.

                      1. re: C. Hamster

                        jacque pepin's method too, he does the same thing too. They are perfectly juicey and it's a fairly fast method.

                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          I cook mine quickly too. Well seasoned and then browned on one side in a hot, hot pan. turn the breast over and then pan and all goes into a 425 oven until almost cooked. Then I let it sit to rest and finish cooking. Always juicy.

                  2. one additional note. Poaching the chicken breasts is not a long cooking process it goes fairly fast if you want them to be nice and moist. Add onion and parsely or cilantro stems, ginger root, any herbs you like. The chicken breast will take on the flavor very nicely.

                    1. I poach it with celery, carrot and peppercorns in the water (saved later for stock). Cool it in the liquid for 30 minutes, then remove and when cool enough to handle, hand shred.

                      1. I used to poach until I was convinced to try oven roasting instead. I'll never poach again!

                        I've only done this with skin on, bone-in breasts: rub with olive oil, liberally salt and pepper, roast at 425 until done. Let rest, slice when cool.

                        So juicy and so, so much better than poached.

                        1. Poached, grilled or oven-roasted; depends on the flavor that you want. Grilling gives it a roasted-type flavor without heating up the kitchen. Just keep an eye on it so they don't dry out. Poaching is usually neutral, unless you use lemon juice and other aromatics in the poaching liquid. And poaching definitely helps keep them moister.

                          1. Bring some seasoned liquid like chicken broth just to a boil.

                            Add chicken breasts. Cover and pull off the heat. Let them sit there for 20 minutes. They'll be done, moist and delcious.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: C. Hamster

                              I'll vote for pan-fried and thinly sliced, not shredded. I think the maillard flavors work beautifully with strong flavored salads. Poached is probably more appropriate for more delicate flavors.

                              1. re: C. Hamster

                                I'm going to try this - it's the easiest, no thinking cooking I need!

                                1. re: C. Hamster

                                  This is the method I went with last night and they came out perfectly juicy and beautiful. Had it over arugula with goat cheese and soy beans with a little teeny bit of balsamic vinaigrette.

                                  1. re: C. Hamster

                                    My SO has been making chicken salad for us this summer using a Mark Bittman recipe. He poaches in chicken stock. The result is very flavorful and moist.

                                    1. If it's boneless, skinless, I fry them in a bit of olive oil on medium low heat, covered for the first five minutes, and slow cooked until they are nice and golden brown on both sides. Covering it for a bit keeps in the moisture, and the frying gives a more exciting flavour than just plain chicken breast, which I find quite bland generally.

                                      The extras freeze really well, for use in later cooking.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                        I'm with you. I sear in cast iron with olive oil. Start med high then lower to med, flip, cover and lower the heat. Nice and golden brown cooked to 165-170 max. I just don't find poached have much flavor.

                                        1. re: scubadoo97

                                          My method is similar -- salt and pepper the chicken, heat olive oil on medium-high, sear about 4 or 5 minutes a side (until they release), then I cover, turn off the heat and let sit for another 5 - 10 mins. I've never had dry chicken breasts like this, and I find they're much tastier than poaching.

                                      2. We almost always marinate and then carefully grill for chicken that will be used on salad greens. We had it 2 weeks ago and my husband, a much better griller than I, grilled them perfectly. The simple supper salad had romaine, grilled onion, pepper and salt, balsamic vinegar, strawberries, and sliced grilled chicken, still warm. Maybe more stuff, can't actually remember.
                                        On a thread of chicken thigh recipes, laliz and Phurstluv said they prepare a recipe like cranberry chicken or others in the oven and then put that on salad. The sauce becomes salad dressing. Wouldn't have thought of it but it sure does sound like a good way to make an easy oven dinner do double duty.
                                        There are so many poachers here, maybe I ought to learn to do that well.


                                        eta: just saw ipsedixit's post. Maybe steamed would be more flavorful than poached?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: fern

                                          "laliz and Phurstluv said they prepare a recipe like cranberry chicken or others in the oven and then put that on salad. The sauce becomes salad dressing. Wouldn't have thought of it but it sure does sound like a good way to make an easy oven dinner do double duty."
                                          this is a great way to use BBQ chicken on a grilled vegetable salad as well. i just turn the sauce into a dressing with some yogurt, vinegar & added spices.

                                        2. Ina Garten has converted me to baking them whole - my last 2 batches have gotten rave reviews so I think I might be on to something. Bon Apetit Y'all also baked whole breast for the chicken salad recipe.
                                          Bake chicken breasts, skin side up, on a sheet pan and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes,350 degrees F.
                                          When the chicken is cool, remove the meat Cut the chicken into a 3/4-inch dice

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: ginnyhw

                                            I follow Ina too and bake bone-in skinless breasts for chicken salad( with mayo, etc). when I make a dinner salad topped with chicken, I prefer to brine and then grill BSCB's.

                                            1. re: Calipoutine

                                              Do you grill them with over charcoal? I ask becuase we are on vacation and tonight we are cooking out on a Weber! Very exciting for us city folks.

                                          2. No question that poached is best, but I confess to be a lazy so-and-so. More often than not I'll use leftover breast from a Costco roast chicken.

                                            I would love to hear some of your best recipes for the salad itself. I frequently do a curried chicken salad with mayo, sweet curry powder, chopped celery and either halved grapes or chopped mango or apple for a touch of sweetness.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: chicgail

                                              recipes for poached breasts or chicken salad?

                                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                                Sorry, chef chicklet. I guess I wasn't clear. I was looking for interesting chicken salad recipes.

                                                  1. re: chicgail

                                                    No I'm sorry! You wrote, "I would love to hear some of your best recipes for the salad itself..." my mistake, I didn't catch that.

                                                    I make a simple base chicken salad or what I call a base. Then I add and change things within it.
                                                    Chicken breast
                                                    red onion
                                                    mayo -enough to mix
                                                    mustard - yellow or dijon
                                                    salt and pepper

                                                    Sometimes I add:
                                                    hard boiled eggs - chopped or sliced
                                                    jarred jalapenos
                                                    Chipotle peppers
                                                    bottle hot and sweet chili sauce
                                                    plum sauce

                                                    fresh apple, pear or mango, grapes or dried cherries
                                                    fresh cilantro, parsley, dill or basil

                                                    curry powder

                                                    These are the interchangable fresh and bottled ingredient that I mix with the base, depending on the mood or what I'm using the chicken salad for. It's really nice for a filling for puffs, chicken, crab or shrimp are my go to party salads. Or use it as the little bite in pastry cup, or for sandwiches it's a refreshing change to deli meats.

                                                    1. re: chef chicklet

                                                      Thanks. Some great ideas I hadn't thought of.

                                              2. I have been making dinner salads with chicken this summer too. I have been cooking the chix on indirect heat, top down, on the grill with mesquite smoking chips. I try to keep the meat to 375. They cook in about 20 minutes and have a great smokey flavor. I slice them on the bias and place it over the salad. I usually dress the green prior to adding the chicken.

                                                Your kitchen also stays cool.

                                                1. Pan roasted. You won't heat up your kitchen and you'll have juices to make a dressing with.

                                                  Season the chicken breasts. Heat some oil in a skillet (with lid) and add chicken skin side up and cook till golden, about 2 mins.

                                                  Turn over onto skin side. Cover skillet and cook 1 minute longer. Turn heat off and leave pan 12-15 minutes - but don't lift lid. You need the heat and steam to cook the chicken. Chicken with the bone, and bigger pieces, usually need the full 15 mins. You can put in a lemon slice and/or a garlic clove ... whatever herbs you like, and it will flavour the juices. When it's done you could add a little chopped shallot and some sherry vinegar to make a dressing. Maybe cook the shallot a bit. Pour over the greens.

                                                  I always get juicy chicken this way but never thought of using it for salad. Which I think I'll be doing soon. Thanks Curly!

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: cinnamon girl

                                                    Oooh - I'll have to give this technique a try tonight - alone again for dinner. I always do salads with chicken when I'm on my own. Makes me feel less guilty about the peanut butter brownie for dessert ;)

                                                    CG - The salad I did was the chicken, soy beans, arugula, goat cheese, avocado and roasted peppers. And a dash of bacon bits!

                                                    1. re: CurlieGlamourGirlie

                                                      I'm so copying you Curlie girl. By soy beans do you mean the edamame? Do you buy them in their pods?

                                                      1. re: cinnamon girl

                                                        No problem!! I buy them at Trader Joe's already shelled. I've seen them in my local supermarket frozen in the pods as well.

                                                  2. When making chicken salad I either oven roast chicken breasts or saute them. I really like the little crunch I get from cooking them in pan.

                                                    1. With bone and skin still on, cooked with indirect heat on the Weber over some mesquite charcoal. Smoked chicken breast is wonderful on salads!

                                                      1. Maybe I'm still stuck in the '80s, but I like blackened chicken breast on salads. Spicy, slightly charred chicken with cool, crispy, tart greens - what's wrong with that? Use commercial blackening seasonings or make your own blend. Give the chicken a healthy coat, mashing it a little to get a uniform thickness. Let stand on the counter for half an hour or so, then cook in a smokin' hot cast iron pan.

                                                        If you're looking for the subtle flavor that poaching will deliver, this isn't it. But it is tasty.

                                                        1. I'll cast a vote for grilling. There was a recipe for grilled lemon-parsley chicken breasts in the July 2007 issue of Cooks Illustrated - we have adopted the brining/grilling technique as our standby for grilled chicken. I don't have the recipe with me so I can't cite the specifics, but you brine boneless skinless breasts in a brine made of water, salt, sugar, garlic, and lemon for about 30 minutes (while the grill heats up). There is some trick about two-level heat on the grill which I don't recall (my husband usually does that part). They turn out excellently flavored and nice and juicy. GREAT on salads or in sandwiches. If you can get your hands on that recipe, do try the technique, at least. (The lemon-parsley sauce included in the recipe is pretty great as a chicken-topper/salad dressing, too.)