Poached Chicken

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.

Poached Chicken Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 2.

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.

Ingredients

  • 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.

Method

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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Poaching a whole chicken by Stephen of Stephen Cooks

79 Comments

  1. elana horwich

    looks gorgeous!!! will definitely give this a try at some point. yum! I have an aversion to breast meat but this might be just the trick. Will let you know when I try it out!!! thanks!

  2. Patrice

    This is an intriguing idea that I’m interested in trying, but I have a question. Do the instructions change if cooking on an electric stove and, if so, how, please?

    The instructions would be the same on gas or electric. ~Elise

  3. angela

    Hi Elise,
    This looks something I need after a month in the UK! It reminds me of poaching a whole salmon, I haven’t done it in a while, but you bring the bouillon to the boil and then put the salmon in the fish kettle and turn off the heat and let it poach in the cooling liquid. Have also heard of people poaching a salmon wrapped in plastic wrap in the dish washer, sans soap of course! Never tried it myself, but love the inventiveness. Hope to see you in Provence soon.

  4. Eva

    What a great way to make chicken, I never would have thought of doing that! Now I need to give this technique a try. It must taste great with all the moisture locked inside the chicken like that.

  5. LimeCake

    Oh wow I don’t think I’ve seen a more perfect piece of chicken breast. Will definitely be trying this cool technique soon!

  6. Three-Cookies

    This is simple and brilliant. Will it work if chicken fillet with skin on is used and the skin browned quickly after the cooking process?

    No idea, but if you try it that way, please let us know how it turns out for you. ~Elise

  7. Kim

    Thanks so much Elise! I have been wanting to try poaching and this method seems perfect for a poaching novice!

  8. Ellen Lehn

    How wonderfully clever, healthy, and delicious. I often marinate chicken in lemon juice and tarragon, but then it dries out a bit in the oven. I poach chicken frequently, but it’s still not as moist as yours sounds. Thanks!

  9. Terri A.

    What a great idea! I’m going to have to try this!

  10. Jodi Anderson

    A few months back, I made a balsamic poached chicken (recipe from Real Simple). It was absolutely delightful, perfect for spring.

    I can’t wait to try this version. It looks amazing.

  11. Restaurant Baby's Sister

    That looks so healthy and easy! One of my favorite ways to eat chicken is the Chinese way of poaching a whole chicken (known as “white cut chicken” as a literal translation of name of the dish). Poaching like this really allows the natural flavors of the meat to shine. Thanks for sharing this recipe!!

  12. Reez

    Awesome idea! I’ve always been curious about the sous vide process and have been wanting to try it. This is one simple way to get a little idea of the process and get tasty results – so, THANK YOU! You have made dinnertime a delicious adventure at my house as I’ve tried MANY of your recipes and succeeded (and that’s saying a lot for this “better late than never” cook). As always, thank you, Elise!

  13. Teresa

    How timely! Thanks so much for sharing this delicious-sounding recipe. It will be a great addition for summer when it’s just too hot to turn the oven on much. I’m looking forward to trying this very soon.

  14. homegrown countrygirl

    Neato! Thank you for sharing this clever idea!

  15. Fifthpocket

    Is there an alternative to chemical-leaching plastic?

    If you are concerned about the plastic touching the food under heat, I would try tightly wrapping the chicken in parchment paper first (just enough to cover the meat) and then wrapping it all with plastic wrap as instructed. ~Elise

    • Michelle Miles

      What I do is poach the chicken naked/unwrapped for about 12 minutes and then finish with herbs and infused oil (just a dash of truffle oil goes a long way) on the stovetop. Why not just do it all on the stovetop? Because I love the supple juicy texture of the poached inner meat.

  16. Cooking contests

    I think I’ve exhausted all other options of cooking chicken, and yet I’ve never tried poaching. I’ve never so much as poached eggs. This looks surprisingly simple, though, and surprisingly good. I’ll definitely have to give it a shot this week with some lemon juice and tarragon – yum!

    And Angela.. the dishwasher? Now that’s inventive! :)

    Take care,
    -Chelsey

  17. Amanda

    Elise – Any suggestions if I don’t have good quality plastic wrap available? I’m living in India right now and the plastic wrap I can find here is really really thin. Would it work if I wrap it in more layers? This sounds really easy and healthy too! Thanks for your wonderful recipes!

    Hi Amanda, if you don’t use good quality plastic wrap it will melt when it gets in the hot water. You might try wrapping the chicken first in parchment paper, just enough to surround the chicken, and then again with aluminum foil. You don’t want the aluminum foil touching the chicken that has been doused in lemon juice because the acid in the lemon juice will react with the aluminum and give you an off taste. ~Elise

  18. greyeagle

    What a cool idea! This is just what I was looking for no butter or fat, hot summer ya just don’t want heavy things. Better for you too.
    Do you think this would work for the same size pieces of dark meat chicken?

    Dark meat takes longer to cook, so you might need to keep it in the poaching liquid longer. ~Elise

  19. Nina

    I love poached chicken and have used a similar method on a whole (small) chicken. Bring the water to the boil, put the chicken in the pot,then turn off the heat, cover the pot for one hour. (Since you can add veggies to the water which will flavor the chicken, you also have a jump start on a chicken stock.) But this method of yours (well, Hank’s) sounds perfect for when you just want a light meal for one or two, and don’t want a big mess of hot chicken liquid, not to mention a bunch of skin and bones to clear away, not to mention who wants to heat up the kitchen with steamy poaching liquid when its 95 degrees out!

    But really what I wanted to say was that my favorite way to serve poached chicken is with a salsa verde, and with so many beautiful herbs in season now, this is a great time to try the recipe.

    So, thanks!

  20. marya

    Any way to use something other than plastic wrap? I have health concerns about cooking in plastic, especially at such a high temperature.

    Would a parchment wrap first, then plastic wrap work?

    If the plastic is a concern, then yes, I would try wrapping the meat in parchment first, and then plastic wrap, or aluminum foil. Though plastic wrap will give you a better seal. ~Elise

  21. deb

    Elise, I don’t like light, skinless or poached chicken and yet, I’m bookmarking this to make this weekend. I love when a recipe has that effect on me! I see countless cold salad-like adaptations of it this summer.

  22. diana

    Hi Elise This recipe to boil chicken sounds fab, could you use frozen fillet and cook longer I find defrosted in the microwave chicken seems to get singe areas.

    I would just put the frozen chicken pieces in a bowl of water. They’ll defrost quickly and gently that way. ~Elise

  23. Mrs. L

    I so need to try this. Sounds perfect when my tummy isn’t the best and I want something simple and easy on the stomach!

  24. Bob

    Instead of the plastic wrap, could you use a zip-top “baggie”?

    No idea if the baggie can withstand the heat. ~Elise

  25. sensiblecooking

    I really love simple dishes like this one. But whenever I try to poach anything in liquid I always have a big mess. I love the idea of wrapping the meat before poaching and reserving all those flavorful juices.

  26. Nancy

    I will freeze seasoned chicken in food saver wrap. After defrosting, would this sealed package work in the boiling water?

    I don’t know. I’m unfamiliar with the heat tolerances of food saver wrap. You might want to check the food saver manual or do an online search. ~Elise

  27. Solaera

    @Nancy: Food saver wrap easily withstands boiling water. We utilize this technique using food saver bags all the time.

  28. Faith Kramer

    I love the simplicity of this — So very often you need poached chicken for a recipe and this seems like an easy and tasty way to prep it as well as a great meal on its own.

  29. Jennifer

    Thank You so much for this! I have made several recipes from here successfully each time. I did wrap the chicken in parchment first then plastic wrap, thanks for the idea, and it turned out great. My husband said, based on the shape, we could put them in a hoagie or hotdog bun and have sandwhiches too.
    Thanks again and I love your website!

  30. Karen

    As I’m always pressed for time, this sounds like something easy I can do and get things rolling before I get home from work. My boys can get the water heated and the chicken seasoned and we all will have learned a different cooking method as well! Just put chicken on my shopping list. I think I’ll try it with Italian salad dressing as a marinade! Can’t wait to try this.

  31. Chelsy

    I noticed someone asked about foodsaver wrap being boiled. Every brand of foodsaver wrap I have ever seen can most definitely be boiled! In fact, after seeing this, it is a genius idea to seal and freeze the chicken with seasonings so when you want to cook it you just put the package in the water.

  32. Kristin

    I learned this technique from Cooking Light magazine several years ago, but they called for keeping the water at a simmer. Sometimes the chicken turned out just right–and it was delicious But sometimes it was a little tough. I’m so glad to read your instructions that allow less heat! I haven’t tried this in over a year because of the uncertain results but I will definitely try it again soon! The CL article also called for “stuffing” the breasts, rolling them up around fillings like julienned veggies. I’ve enjoyed adding this step in the past and it’s really pretty when the rolls are sliced.

  33. Maureen

    What a great idea! I often poach chicken but have always used stock. I can’t wait to try this.

  34. Betsy

    I love this idea! I have a childhood memory of watching the French Gourmet boil a whole chicken which this reminds me of (in a way) I’m definitely going to give it a shot! Thanks!

  35. Donalyn

    Oh, that looks gorgeous. I love poached chicken for salads and other uses. I’ll definitely be trying this – thanks!

  36. Nate @ House of Annie

    I wonder if we can quickly sear the chicken after poaching to give it some color and extra flavor. Would that dry it out?

  37. doodles

    What a great idea……I try to keep poached chicken breasts on hand especially during the summer months. Lots of different salads seem to appear on the menu on hot summer nights. Poach and then maybe throw on the grille??

  38. kimberlycun

    agree! sometimes u just want something that taste natural and subtle. lovely recipe btw!

  39. rossella

    Elise, this was GOOD.GOOD GOOD. moist, tender, juicy. GOOOOOD. Only I suggest not to make the rolls too big or it will take more than 27 minutes to cook them through.
    The smaller one I made was just perfect, done in 20 minutes and absolutely delicious!

  40. Kendra

    I tried this last night, and I have to say, it was AMAZING! I used pinches of oregano and garlic for the marinade, then wisked a little olive oil into the juices for a quick sauce. I will definitely be making this again! Thanks Elise!

  41. Mary

    What a great idea to keep all the moisture and flavor – no more dry chicken – great!
    mary

  42. Alfredo

    This would be a great way to use up all those small amounts of marinades I have in the fridge.

  43. Rachel @ NotRachaelRay

    How interesting! I love this! It is so versatile, you could put anything in with the chicken. I’m definitely going to have to try this, but I’ll probably have to upgrade my plastic wrap first :)

  44. Dawn

    I gave this a try last night. We will definately make it again. I served it with the mushroom risotto and the cucumber salad. Everyone loved all three dishes. Thanks for the great recipes.

  45. Jen

    I love poaching chicken, it really is a great way to make flavorful chicken that is very moist. I often make it this way for chicken salad. For those who have asked about different types of plastic wrap that didn’t seem like a good idea, I have poached chicken without any wrapping at all (using a similar recipe – water, some onions, celery, carrots, and whatever herbs/spices suit you). I’ve also tried that Real Simple balsamic poached chicken and it was really good, if you like balsamic vinegar.

    I’m wondering if wrapping it in plastic would make it a lot more moist? I haven’t had a problem with dryness when I’ve made it, but maybe I just don’t know what I’m missing, so perhaps I’ll give this method a try next time.

  46. Gen

    This recipe is wonderful! I have made it twice and my family loves it. Keep those great recipes coming.

  47. Suzanne

    Instead of plastic wrap, those snack size zipper bags work great too ;) and it holds in the juices better as if you dont twist and tie the plastic wrap up good enough, water can get in and/or the juices can leak out :) Love poaching chicken this way!!! Thanks, Simply Recipes :)

  48. Mike

    Just out of curiousity, why is the water flavored if the chicken is wrapped in an impermeable plastic?

    The poaching water is not flavored. The liquid that is released by the chicken meat as it cooks is flavored from the chicken. ~Elise

  49. Claire

    Great recipe. Worked like a charm and my family practically inhaled it! Thanks, Elise. I didn’t have lemon juice, so I used olive oil and basalmic vinegar- the flavor was pretty good, and the meat oh so tender.

  50. Nathan

    I’d never heard of this method, but I knew as soon as I read your recipe that the chicken would not only be tender, but flavorful — something I don’t always associate with poaching. I made two batches simultaneously: one using lemon and rosemary, as per your recipe, and one using rice vinegar, soy sauce, and ginger (and a pinch of sugar and a drop of sesame oil). Both were great, and it was fun being able to cook with such different flavors in the same pot!

  51. emiglia

    This is genius! My dad is always asking for ways to cook proteins without added fat… this is perfect.

  52. Trish-in-MO

    Now see . . . I’ve just been putting the chicken breasts right into seasoned water. Is that “poaching”? After that, I chop or slice it and freeze in 2 cup portions for further recipes. I thought that was a good idea; this sounds far more flavorful! Will have to try it!

    Yes, you can poach in water, seasoned water, or even wine. This way just keeps the chicken juices near the chicken if you wrap it in plastic, and makes it easier to cut rounds. ~Elise

  53. Warren

    Can I assume this works same for duck? The chicken would probably make a great chicken salad.

    Yes! ~Elise

  54. Peggy T

    I had to try this, using lemon juice, salt, garlic and pepper. Then, because I love the way Mediterranean cooking often pairs lemon flavoring with mushrooms, I poured the leftover marinade over chopped mushrooms and sautéed them, adding just a little butter.

    Added some sautéed summer squash, and I had a feast, my friends!

  55. Diane

    This recipe looks so good! It’s about 95 degrees down here in Charlotte, NC and the last thing I want to do is go outside and grill chicken. I think we’ll be making this tonight! Thank you!

  56. KimH

    Sounds & looks awesome!!

  57. MadGrad

    How would you recommend freezer storage? I’d like to make several in advance and freeze them, still in their plastic. How would you recommend reheating? Resubmerge in water or microwave?

    Thanks for the inspiration! I can’t wait to make this!

    No idea on the freezing the cooked chicken. I would freeze the raw, wrapped chicken, defrost in cold water in the fridge, and then cook. ~Elise

  58. kara

    i took the basic concept from your post and tried it with tilapia and it was amazing. My housemate had 2nds … and he’s not a big fish fan.

    Great concept and easy to adapt to other foods!

  59. success_1of4

    Wow, I have to say, I’ve never paid attention to packaging on the plastic wrap label. I will also say chicken is a protein cooked of the norm in my apartment. Furthermore, I think poached would be a nice change of chicken for my guest and me. MadGrad idea with the tilapia would be interesting as well; I have recently become a fan of fish, so that sounds like a plan.

  60. oliver standing

    This looks delish. It might be nice with boiled vegetables and aioli.

  61. Beckie

    We had this for dinner this evening and hubby says it’s a keeper!!!

  62. colleen

    Bravo Elise! FABULOUS summer dinner idea. I tried it w/ lemon juice, 2 cloves minced garlic and fresh dill. The leftovers make a quick salad lunch for work tossed on top of some greens and drizzled w/ your ranch dressing. De-lightful!

  63. Irena

    I seasoned it with paprika, cayenne, and S&P. It came out tasting kind like cold cut buffalo chicken.
    Love this idea of poaching chicken. Thank you so much~

  64. Georgia Pellegrini

    I love poaching meats. This recipe is a great idea. This really makes the kind of tender meats that will have people coming back for seconds.

  65. GT

    Elise,

    Do you think this would work the same at high altitudes? Water boils at a lower temperature up here (8,000 feet) … would that make a difference in this cooking method?

    Hi GT, you should be fine. Actually, you only need to get the water simmering, at about 180 degrees for this to work, at sea level. Give that the boiling point at 8000 ft altitude is 197° (I looked it up online), you’ll be fine. ~Elise

  66. Annie

    Wow, you’ve totally reformed my idea of chicken-poaching! I’ve never wrapped my chicken before and always poached it in continually simmering water. I tried this tonight to make chicken for quesadillas, and it turned out beautifully — so moist and delicious! Thanks!

  67. Arimathea

    it’s the first time i’ve tried poaching and it turned out wonderfully. the chicken was moist, tender and tasty. thanks for the recipe!

  68. laura

    DEElish. Simply DEElish. Thank you.

  69. Ashley Brent

    I tried this last night to take to work today, and WOW. I’ve never had such flavorful, moist chicken in my life. I used organic chicken breasts, lemon juice, salt and Herbs De Provence, and followed the reciped exactly. I can’t wait to make this again and use the leftovers to make a batch of chicken salad. Right now I’m sharing the recipe (and leftovers) with my co-workers! Thanks Elise :)

  70. Joann

    Hi, I am wondering if this will work with boneless pork chops?

    Perhaps. Or maybe with pork tenderloin. If you try it, please let us know how it works out for you. ~Elise

  71. Margaret

    I made this tonight with chicken marinated in lime juice and salt.

    It didn’t need sauce. It barely needed a side dish. We could have eaten just a big whopping plate of this all by itself. SO GOOD.

    None the less, next time I’m going to try to make a sauce from the juices.

  72. jo

    Made this tonight and it was excellent! I opted to wrap in parchment first, then plastic – and it worked fine!

  73. Hazel

    Not bad! I usually hate breast meat but poaching it made it much more appealing.

  74. CJ

    I made this tonight and it was amazing. I didnt use lemon juice and all but what i did was coat the chicken with a light amount of olive oil, mixed with some marinara sauce and oregano, garlic powder, garlic salt, and black pepper. it was a very loose sauce essentially. wrapped it up and cooked away. whipped up a thicker version of the same sauce to put on top of the chicken for more flavor. Served with steamed baby carrots with a honey glaze and herb mashed potatoes. simply freakin amazing :)

  75. Arlene

    I just made this for lunch, and I absolutely love it! Didn’t follow all the instructions to the letter, but the chicken turned out wonderfully tasty and tender. Instead of using a pot, I boiled water in an electric kettle. And because our plastic wrap is very thin, I used an inner layer of microwave-safe wax paper and an outer layer of aluminum foil. I then wedged the two rolls in a ceramic bowl, poured the hot water on them, and left them in for 15 minutes. Will make this again!

  76. Natalie

    Thanks Elise -I have to be on a special diet for a medical procedure for the next 3 days and it involves boiled chicken/fish which I have never even thought of cooking and just found this recipe so thank you – will try it tonight! :)

  77. Danny Jay

    Just made this, Used Chicken thigh as that’s what I had in. Absolutely amazing! – I made this on an induction hob with fairly thick chicken wraps and was ready in 20 minutes. Thank you so much!

  78. Stephanie @CopyKat.com

    This looks very good. I want to give this a try when making chicken for a salad. I would love to try this recipe with a southwest flavor, I love the lime and cilantro and I think this method would be perfect for this. Thanks for sharing. I want to try chicken in a new way.

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