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Apr 23, 2010 12:11 PM

Poaching a whole chicken

I know that, when you poach chicken pieces, you submerge it entirely in liquid and then cook it below the simmer, but I'm thinking about poaching a whole chicken. I believe I've seen in a few places that you actually simmer the chicken for an hour or so. In your experience, does this actually work (i.e. produce a tender result)? I'm afraid that simmering (especially for a whole hour) will make the meat tough, but then again, this is a whole chicken, covered by skin, with no meat exposed to the boiling liquid.

Also, some people use stock as their poaching liquid, but since I'm poaching a whole chicken, I'd need A LOT of stock to completely cover it. I don't have that much stock, and I'm thinking of just throwing some aromatics (celery, leeks, onions, carrots, thyme, bay leaf, and fennel stalks) in the water. Is this good enough? I'm doubtful that with the skin on, the chicken will actually absorb a lot of flavor from the liquid, so stock may be a waste.

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  1. Here's the old go-to from the Frugal Gourmet:

    I've done breasts by this technique for 20 years and they're the moistest ever.

    3 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      I don't think you even need to do the removal part, which has to do with how clear the final stock is. I just put the whole chicken in cold water, with herbs, quartered onions, celery stalks, and halved carrots, bring to boil, and turn off heat, leaving covered for an hour as per the FG. After the bird is cooked and deboned, I return the skin, bones, and any unwanted meat (wings, in my case) to the pot and simmer some more for a stronger stock.

      1. re: greygarious

        That's how I do it as well. Put the chicken in cold water, bring to a boil, turn off heat and cover and let sit 1 hour. Perfect!

      2. re: c oliver

        +1 for the late Frug, R.I.P. I'm always amazed at how great this recipe works.

        BTW what is the Largest chicken you've poached this way?
        I thought that Costco Uberchickens(tm) were big, but some local markets started carrying four or five pounders! Cluckzilla's coming ....

      3. I saw a PBS, Jacques and Julia episode just last night (episode #118 Comfort Food: Poached Chicken, Chicken Pot Pie and Apple Tart Dessert) and they did a whole poached bird.
        Their method:
        No stock, plain water.
        Seasoning: salt +aromatics.
        The aromatics included a bouquet garni made with a leek leaf, bay leaf and terragon (maybe parsley?) as well as a few cloves, pearl onions, carrots, leek, and celery.
        I think they brought it to a simmer and let her go for an hour.

        They pulled the bird out, removed the skin, kind of quartered it and set it atop a bed of cooked white rice. The cooked pearl onions, celery, and carrot were arranged around the chicken on the platter.
        The stock was used to moisten the rice as you ate it.

        9 Replies
        1. re: porker

          I enjoy that 1999-2000 series, but caution that Julia cooked her vegetables to what these days would be considered overly-soft. I think that meal would be more enjoyable if additional vegetables were added in the last 20 minutes, with the older ones being discarded.

          1. re: greygarious

            I've always been puzzled at Julia's ironic instructions for cooking vegetables. In Mastering, she said the cardinal rule of cooking vegetables is never to overcook. But then she tells you to boil asparagus for 15 minutes! Yet the qualitative instructions say that the end result should be tender, but not limp. You cannot boil asparagus for 15 minutes and not have it limp. I found that 2 minutes for peeled asparagus gets the job done. So now I've learned well enough to never heed Julia's timing for vegetables, but to follow the qualitative indicators instead.

            1. re: michaelnrdx

              I believe that's because at the time the book was written a lot of people (my mom included) thought nothing of boiling vegetables for a half hour or more...15 minutes was an improvement.

              1. re: buttertart

                Exactly, BT, it was a different time with different standards.

                I don't usually poach chicken, it's bland enough as it is, maybe to put in something else, but I digress. I would only correct the OP in that the skin does NOT entirely cover the bird, I always see breast meat poking out, and I would be concerned that I was overcooking the thing, unless I did it at a bare simmer. But it sure works great for duck, but that has sooooo much more fat than chicken, I don't worry when I do that.

                1. re: Phurstluv

                  Even so, Julia's instructions are still contradictory. There's no way you can boil the vegetables for the prescribed amount of time and end up with the texture she said you should have. Even my two minutes of boiling asparagus already leaves the stalks a bit limp. And the same goes for her instructions on blanching zucchini.

                  1. re: michaelnrdx

                    I'm curious why you peel asparagus.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      C, are you serious? I don't peel new asparagus, but sometimes those big tough ones need a shavin' know what I mean?? But I usually don't peel broccoli........

                      You're just joshin' right??

                      1. re: Phurstluv

                        I've never peeled any asparagus. And I only buy the really big ones. Actively dislike the real thin ones. Different strokes obviously :)

                      2. re: c oliver

                        Julia recommends peeling asparagus, because it's more economical than spear-snapping. You can get more out of your asparagus that way.

          2. John Thorne gives a variation based on poaching a chicken in a pig's bladder. You put the chicken in a roasting bag, suck out all the air and seal it. Then you put the chicken in the pot, bring it to a boil. Cover and turn off the heat and let it cook in the residual heat. A probe thermometer can be stuck through the bag to check doneness if you are not sure. This way, you get all the concentrated juice of the bird.

            8 Replies
            1. re: Father Kitchen

              Hey Fathah!! (Have to get that Brooklyn accent to come through in the post...) Pig's bladder? Great idea, too bad I don't know any pig farmers, used to though in CT, but not here in LA. Good to know you can use roasting bags!! Anyway, good idea.

              But one question, how hard is it to take that bag out of the pot of steaming water, without burning yourself and how do you keep the juices in the bird, once you open up the bag?

              1. re: Phurstluv

                You lift the bag out of the pot with tongs or whatever is handy. The juices don't all stay in the bird. They will be in the bag as a sauce. So when you cut the bag over a dish of some sort, the concentrated cooked juices drain out.

                1. re: Father Kitchen

                  Okay, got it, you use the juices for a sauce, not for keeping with the birdie. Thanks!

              2. re: Father Kitchen

                I don't think I will be doing this in a pig's bladder. I just want to know if simmering a whole chicken will toughen it, which is what I intend to do.

                1. re: michaelnrdx

                  Oh, c'mon, where's your sense of adventure??! We were counting on you to tell us all the GORY details........LOL!!!

                  1. re: michaelnrdx

                    I make a lot of chicken stock. A couple of weekends ago my butcher had a sale on whole broiling chickens and it was actually cheaper by the lb than even bones or wings. So I popped it in a big stockpot with an onion, 4 sticks of celery, a couple of carrots, 1 Tbs peppercorns. Brought it to boil, upon boiling set it to the lowest simmer I could find on my electric coil stovetop. There was a low constant heat source, but not even a ripple in the water. Because I mainly wanted the stock for a special soup, I let it simmer for 4 hours.
                    Here is what really surprised me. The chicken was not tough. When I used tongs to get it out of the pot, it literally fell apart. I picked all the meat off the chicken, the dark meat was really tender and juicy. Even the breast shredded apart beautifully and wasn't dry and made for nice eating. Now the "all broken up" presentation may not be what you're going for. And the skin was completely falling off.
                    My point is that extremely low heat over a long period didn't seem to overcook or dry the meat in my particular instance. In fact, the prolonged sitting in the flavourful stock seemed to enhance the chickeny flavour of the breast. I think high heat is the real enemy. Notice that I did not salt the water at all until the end. I figure if salt can make beans tough whilst cooking, maybe it does that to chicken as well.
                    Having said all that, I've tried the "big pot of water to boil, put chicken in then rest off heat an hour" method described in another response to your post, and that made really nice chicken.

                    1. re: ozinboz

                      That makes sense, since in stock-making the water doesn't actually boil, so you should get a tender product.

                  2. re: Father Kitchen

                    What a great idea. I'm usually opposed to poaching or boiling chicken as the white meat seems overcooked and the whole thing, pretty bland. But the idea of putting it in a bag first, so it cooks in its own juice is great and probably creates a wonderfully moist and flavorful product. Thanks FK!!

                  3. I assume you intend to keep the liquid for stock? If so, you might want to omit the fennel from the equation, as its residual flavour could be a problem for some uses (ok though for fish and also Asian/Indian etc.).

                    1. I add garlic and even green chile to the aromatics as well as I like to use the cooked chicken for Mexican food. Always comes out tender using the barely simmering method. I, too, return all the skin and bones to the stock and cook more robustly for a while longer to reduce a little, carefully strain it and leave to cool overnight in the fridge so that the fat hardens on top and is easy to remove.