Poached Chicken, when cooked properly, is tender juicy and full of flavor. Poaching chicken is a delicate process but it's easy to master and a great skill to have. Whether you're poaching boneless chicken breasts, thighs, or a whole chicken, here's how to make perfect poached chicken - every time.
Use homemade poached chicken to make chicken salads, sandwiches, noodle bowls and all of your other delicious dishes that call for sliced, diced or shredded cooked chicken.
Poached Chicken is wonderful if cooked properly - inedible if not. So let's get this right!
There's a lot of confusion and conflicting advice out on the web about how to poach chicken. Some recipes say to put raw chicken into boiling water and turn off the flame and leave it to finish cooking without a heat source. Some recipes are vague in their instructions, telling you to simmer the chicken until done or to bring it to a boil and then cook it on low until done.
I'm sure some of these techniques work....at least some of the time. But that's not good enough.
You should not have to risk eating undercooked chicken (which can and does happen if you cook chicken in water without a heat source), and you should never have to attempt to make chicken salad with dry rubbery chicken. I've been there (sadly) and I can promise you, no amount of mayonnaise can disguise the chewy toughness of overcooked chicken.
But don't worry! There IS a correct way to poach chicken and you'll love how easy and reliable it is. Let's start with the definition of poaching.
WHAT IS POACHING?
Poaching is a method of cooking chicken (or fish or other delicate foods) gently in liquid that's just below the boiling point (from 160° to 180°F), so the proteins retain moisture as they cook.
I love the explanation in this article from Fine Cooking by Molly Stevens on the difference between Poaching, simmering and boiling. Stevens provides the exact temperatures for each method but goes on to say that "you don't need a thermometer...all you need is your eyes."
"Part of the nuance of poaching is knowing when the liquid (water, stock, or wine, for example) has reached the right temperature. The surface of the liquid should just shimmer with the possibility of a bubble."
HOW TO POACH CHICKEN
Follow these three steps for perfect poached chicken.
Whether you're poaching boneless chicken breasts, boneless thighs, whole chicken breasts or a whole chicken, these three essential steps are your ticket to tender, juicy, flavorful chicken - every time.
- Flavor the cooking liquid - Adding some herbs and spices to the poaching liquid, or even aromatic vegetables like onions or garlic, can make a huge difference in the flavor of your poached chicken. Don't settle for bland chicken when it's easy to add flavor.
- Start the chicken in cold water - Don't plunge raw chicken into boiling water or the outside will overcook before the inside is done. If you heat the chicken and water together, the chicken will cook slowly and evenly.
- Don't boil the chicken and don't even let the water bubble - The intense heat of boiling water will cause chicken to quickly lose moisture and become tough. For tender juicy poached chicken, cook the chicken in water that is just below the boiling point - the water should quiver as if it's about to boil, but it should not be bubbling.
ELEVATE THE FLAVOR!
For the best poached chicken, be sure to add at least a pinch of salt to the poaching liquid, as well as some combination of herbs, spices and aromatic vegetables. Here's some inspiration:
- Fragrant dry spices - whole peppercorns, cloves, star anise or a cinnamon stick will add great flavor.
- Fresh herbs - parsley leaves and stems, dill leaves and stems, cilantro leaves and stems, a sprig rosemary or thyme - are all great choices.
- Aromatic vegetables - toss in a few smashed garlic cloves, half an onion, a few scallions, a slice or two of fresh ginger, or chopped lemongrass.
- Root Vegetables - when poaching a whole chicken, carrots, celery, parsnips and turnips add wonderful flavor and create delicious chicken broth.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO POACH CHICKEN?
Poaching time depends on the size and type of chicken you are cooking. Follow the timing ranges listed below and be sure to check for doneness at the low end of the range. (Temperature should register at least 165 °F (73.9 °C) when inserted into the thickest part of the breast, and juices should run clear)
- 10 - 14 minutes for boneless chicken breasts or thighs
- 25-30 minutes for whole bone-in chicken breasts (with or without skin)
- 1 - 1 ¼ hours for a whole (3-4 lb.) chicken. 1 ½ hours to make rich chicken soup with shredded chicken.
HOW TO MAKE POACHED CHICKEN BREASTS
Poached chicken breasts are easy to prepare and, among other things, they make the best chicken salad! They're also great for meal prep - use them in any recipe that calls for cooked chicken.
Here's an overview of how to poach chicken breasts. Scroll down to the recipe for more detailed instructions, including notes on how to adapt this recipe for other cuts of chicken.
- Place boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a large, heavy pot. (heavy pots work best for poaching because they retain heat more evenly)
- Add cold water, enough water so the chicken is fully submerged plus an inch
- Flavor the water with herbs, spices, onions, celery, carrots, garlic, ginger, lemon slices or anything you like. Or follow my favorite basic poaching recipe, below.
- Heat the water to just below boiling (160F-180F) over medium-high heat. You don't need a thermometer. When you see the first signs of bubbling, turn the heat down to the point where the water is quivering but not bubbling. Partially cover the pot to help maintain a steady temperature, and continue to cook the chicken for 10 - 14 minutes. Chicken will likely be done after 10 minutes unless the breasts are very large.
- Check for doneness - Insert a knife into the thickest part of the breast. If the juices run clear, the chicken is cooked through. If the juices are pink, return the chicken to the pot and continue to poach for another few minutes. If you are using a food thermometer, the temperature should register at least 165 °F (73.9 °C), when inserted into the thickest part of the breast.
- Remove the chicken from the pot and let it cool for a few minutes before slicing, dicing or shredding it. If you're not using it right away, store poached chicken in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
WHAT TO DO WITH POACHED CHICKEN
My favorite thing to make with homemade poached chicken is chicken salad. I also love it for making chicken enchiladas or to slice and toss on top of a green salad, for a light healthy meal. It's also great for making chicken sandwiches.
Other dishes to make with poached chicken:
- Soups - try this easy Coconut Curry Chicken Soup.
- Stews - like this delicious Curried Butternut Squash Lentil and Chicken Stew
- Noodle Bowls - such as Spicy Sesame Peanut Noodles with Chicken
- Chicken Salads - here are my three favorites: curried chicken salad, Venezuelan avocado chicken salad and Brazilian chicken salad.
Here's how to make perfect poached chicken. If you try this, I hope you'll come back to leave a star rating and a comment. I'd love to know what you think!Print
[First published on May 11, 2017. Refreshed and updated on January 15, 2022 with new photos; a much more detailed explanation of the poaching method; added suggestions for how to flavor the poaching water; added instructions for how to poach chicken thighs, bone-in breasts and a whole chicken; the same delicious recipe! ]