I have a lot of recipes in my regular rotation that use just a small amount of shredded or sliced cooked chicken, like my go-to lunch salad, these BBQ burrito bowls, and any number of quick weeknight soups.
If I have some leftover chicken in the fridge, I use that for these easy meals. Otherwise, I use this poaching method to quickly cook a few chicken breasts when I need them!
When you want silky, tender chicken without a lot of fuss or fanfare, poaching is the way to go. The chicken cooks gently, retaining much more moisture than with other cooking methods. Adding herbs and other seasonings to the poaching liquid also helps season the chicken as it cooks -- and you're left with a tasty broth at the end!
My method is very simple and straightforward: Just cover the chicken with about an inch of water and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat until the water is simmering, cover the pot, and let the chicken cook. That's it!
Thinner chicken breast cutlets are ready in about eight minutes, while larger, whole chicken breasts can take up to fifteen minutes. Just check frequently toward the end of cooking either by checking the internal temperature with a thermometer or slicing into the chicken to make sure it's cooked through, and continue to cook until its done.
I use this method most frequently for cooking chicken breasts, but you can also use it for cooking chicken thighs if you prefer. Cook as many breasts (or thighs) at once as you like. They cook best when in a single layer, so use a pan big enough to hold everything.
For seasoning the poaching liquid during cooking, I most frequently use peppercorns, bay leaves, lemon slices, and garlic. You could also think about using sliced ginger, sliced scallions, fresh rosemary or thyme, or orange slices.
Use the chicken meat right away, or let it cool and refrigerate for up to five days. You can also freeze the cooked chicken for up to three months. I recommend shredding or slicing the chicken before to freezing.
And don't throw away the cooking liquid! This method will make a lightly-flavored chicken broth, which you can use in place of chicken broth for other recipes or as the cooking liquid for rice and other grains. You can also sip it all on its own!
Recipe Conversion Hints
- One 12-ounce chicken breast will weigh about 8 ounces after poaching.
- This amount of meat will give you about 2 cups of shredded chicken when lightly packed into the measuring cup. (Or about 2 1/3 cups if loosely packed.)
- In other words: 1 average chicken breast = 8 ounces cooked = 2 cups shredded.
How to Poach Chicken, the Quick and Easy Way
- 1 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (roughly 12 ounces each)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Optional seasonings: smashed garlic, bay leaf, peppercorns, sliced ginger, sliced lemons or oranges, sliced onions or celery, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme
Place the chicken in a single layer in the bottom of a pan:
It's ok if the pieces overlap a little.
Cover with an inch of water:
Add the salt and any seasonings you'd like to use.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat:
As the water comes to a boil, foam will start to collect on the surface. If you're planning to use the cooking liquid for something else, you can skim the foam off the surface. Otherwise, it's fine to just leave it.
Cover and simmer for 8 to 15 minutes:
Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook for 8 minutes, then begin checking the chicken to see if it's done. Thin cutlets will cook in about 8 minutes; large chicken breasts will need up to 15 minutes.
The chicken is done when it registers 165F in the thickest part of the meat with an instant read thermometer. You can also cut into the chicken to see if it's cooked through. Continue cooking and checking the chicken every minute or so until the chicken is cooked.
Cool briefly, then shred or slice:
Remove the chicken from the broth and place on a plate or cutting board. When cool enough to handle, shred or slice the chicken, as needed. Use immediately, or cool completely and refrigerate for up to 5 days. Shredded or sliced chicken can also be frozen for up to 3 months.