How to poach chicken breasts: a simple, classic cooking method that really comes in handy for easy weeknight dinners and lunchtime salads. Poaching is one cooking method that every cook should just know how to do. So if you don’t, no problem. It’s easy! Let me show you how.
How to Poach Chicken Breasts
Poached chicken breasts can be rubbery, tasteless and boring or tender, moist and clean tasting. Served warm or cold, poached chicken breasts are a quick and easy way to get dinner on the table when you have little time to mess around.
Poached chicken breasts last up to four days in the refrigerator well wrapped, so make them on a Sunday afternoon and enjoy them through the week in a variety of ways. Chilled and sliced, they are easily used in salads. If you chop them into cubes, poached chicken is great for chicken salad.
What is Poaching?
Poaching is a cooking method where by food is submerged in barely simmering liquid, usually flavored water. For flavoring the poaching water, use aromatics. Aromatics is a chefy term so you can feel smart next time someone mentions it. Ingredients like bay leaf, onion, celery, thyme sprigs, crushed garlic cloves and peppercorns.
For poaching chicken, add lemon slices and a little white wine (optional) for more flavor. Poaching in broth adds more flavor but jazzed up water works fine.
Many recipes tell you to start by bringing the water to a boil, then adding the food and turing the heat down to poach. I like to start my chicken breasts in cold water and bring the pot up to temperature because I think the chicken stays more tender.
Trim boneless, skinless chicken breasts of any fat. Place chicken breasts in a pot or pan just large enough to hold them in a single layer. Cover with water by an inch or two, just enough so that the chicken will be totally submerged. Bring the water and chicken up to a strong simmer (just below boiling) over medium heat then turn the heat down to low. Skim any grayish foam that develops, then add your aromatics. The target water temperature for poaching is between 160° – 180°, and I aim for the high side. Poach chicken breasts until they reach 165°F internally, then remove them from the pan. Use a digital thermometer to test them.
Timing for poaching depends on the size of your chicken breasts. When I cooked the chicken for these photos, the breasts were huge. Two chicken breasts were almost 1 1/2 pounds, enough to serve 4 people. For reference, they poached in approximately 16-18 minutes. When the chicken breasts are done, remove them from the pot and serve warm or cool completely then refrigerate.
What To Do With Poached Chicken Breasts
Slice them and top with a sauce of choice, like a dollop of pesto, creamy citrus sauce mango sauce or preserved lemon sauce. A drizzle of a tasty homemade vinaigrette works great too. Cut poached chicken into small cubes and use for chicken salads, like a classic Cobb.
Next post I’ll be sharing a recipe for a creamy curried chicken salad with cashews and red grapes using poached chicken breast. It’s become one of our favorites lunches lately.
How to Poach Chicken Breasts
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
- Water to cover in the pot
- 1/2 small onion or use leek or shallot, sliced
- 1/2 lemon sliced
- 1/2 cup white wine optional
- 1 rib celery chopped
- 3 garlic cloves peeled and crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- a small handful of fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 teaspoons black peppercorns
- a pinch of sea salt
- Trim chicken breasts of any excess fat. Place chicken breasts in a pot or pan just large enough to hold them in a single layer. Cover with water by about two inches, enough so that the chicken will be totally submerged. They must be totally under water.
- Bring the water up to almost a simmer (you will see small bubbles) and skim any grayish foam that develops. The water temperature should be between 160° - 180°. Turn the heat to low so there are almost no bubbles. After skimming, add your aromatics, lemon and wine.
- Poach chicken breasts until they reach 165° internally then remove them from the pan. Use a digital thermometer to test. Timing for poaching depends on the size of your chicken breasts. Typically they will cook in 15-18 minutes. When they are done, remove the chicken breasts from the pot and serve warm, or cool then refrigerate. Well wrapped they will be good for up to 4 days, or freeze for future use.