As fond as one may be of bacon and butter, sometimes the body just wants something light. What do you make when you want a light meal? I’ve taken to poaching chicken, using a pretty cool method taught to me by Hank Shaw. The method reminds me of sous-vide, but you don’t need any fancy equipment, just plastic wrap and a big pot of hot water. You take a strip of boneless, skinless chicken breast, season it, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and then drop it in hot water. That’s it. So easy. The result is tender, moist, perfectly cooked chicken, with no added fat.
The key to the success of this technique is to never put the rolled-up chicken into boiling water; boiling water is too hot and will overcook the meat. Instead, bring the water to a simmer and then turn off the heat. Once the water stops bubbling, you can add the meat. As the water temperature slowly drops, the chicken is gently cooked all the way through. Small chicken breasts will be perfectly cooked in 15 minutes, but you can leave them in the water for 30 minutes with no loss of flavor or texture.
Make sure that your slices of chicken or other meat are not more than 3 inches in diameter. If they are wider, you can still use this method, but you might need to turn the burner on “low” to keep the temperature from falling below 140 degrees.
Wrapping the meat in plastic wrap seals in the juices and helps infuse the meat with the seasonings while it cooks. Make sure you use a good quality plastic wrap; any that say “microwave safe” on the packaging will do.
This recipe is designed for chicken breasts, but you can also do this with turkey breast, pork tenderloin or a meaty fish such as halibut.
You can double this recipe, but if you do, use a larger pot and double the amount of poaching water.
- 1 skinless chicken breast (1/2 pound)
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- A couple pinches of salt
- A couple pinches of a dried herb of your choice - tarragon, oregano, basil, rosemary, or thyme, or some other seasoning such as cumin or paprika
- Plastic wrap*
*Use a good quality plastic wrap that can withstand some heat. Look for packaging that indicates you can use the plastic wrap in a microwave oven. If it can handle a microwave oven, it will hold up in boiling water.
1 Trim all the fat from the chicken breast and slice it lengthwise. In a small bowl mix the lemon juice, salt, and herbs. Add the chicken pieces and coat all over with the lemon juice mixture. Let the chicken pieces sit in the lemon juice while you heat the water in the next step.
2 Bring a pot of water (2 1/2 quarts of water, 4 quart pot) to a high simmer.
3 Roll out a long sheet of plastic wrap at least twice as long as the chicken breast slices. Place 1 chicken strip on the plastic wrap, in the middle. Roll up the chicken in the plastic wrap tightly. Compress as much air out of the chicken as you can as you roll it. Once the chicken is rolled up, rotate it on your cutting board or counter several times to tighten the cylinder even more. Tie the loose ends of the plastic wrap together in a double knot. Repeat with the second chicken strip.
4 Once the water has reached a high simmer, turn off the heat (keep the pot on the burner though) and drop the rolled-up chicken cylinders in the pot. Cover the pot and let the chicken steep for 15 minutes. The chicken should be cooked through by then. (If for some reason the chicken is not cooked through, for example if you are using larger than called for breasts, or if you are using frozen chicken that hadn't quite defrosted before starting cooking, you can always put the chicken back in the poaching liquid for a few more minutes.)
5 To serve, snip off the tied ends of the plastic wrap, and unwrap. Note that there will be some juice inside the plastic wrap with the chicken, which has lots of flavor. So you might want to unwrap the chicken pieces over a bowl or something to catch the juice, which you can then pour over the chicken if you want. Or serve the chicken with a sauce of your choice.