Poach Your Chicken, Win at Dinner All Week

February 27, 2017

Here is a controversial thing I believe to be truth: Poached chicken > roast chicken, when it comes to prepping for dinners. For one, poached chicken is a twofer. It's chicken and broth. Not to mention the most tender chicken that a cook can cook.

It's also dangerously easy to prepare, if you've got your temperature and times right. For those in possession of a slow-cooker and with few hours to spare, Nicholas Day's recipe for a whole chicken is tops, For those without, or facing a need-dinner-now situation, I love Martha's method for two bone-in breasts.

She starts with cold or room temperature water and brings it 170º F, leaving the breasts in the just-simmering water just until the meat reaches 160º (Daniel Gritzer, on Serious Eats, advises the same start temperature and meat temperature), about 15 to 18 minutes for two bone-in breasts. No shock in hot water at the start, no boiling—just gently-cooked, velvety chicken. It is, in essence, the same as what happens in a sous vide (minus the, ermmm, sous vide).

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But however you poach, or whatever cuts you choose (so long as they're on the bone, for maximum juiciness), or whatever aromatics you choose to toss in the pot to flavor the meat and broth, the results are a brilliant jumping off point for dinners throughout the week. Remove the meat from the bone, store it in the broth, then break it out to make...

chicken + broth

  • Chicken soup: No steps are required. Poached chicken in its broth is also known as chicken soup. If you're making it a few days later, warm broth and chicken over low heat till piping.
  • Tortilla soup: Fry some cumin, red pepper flakes, and a spoonful of tomato paste in a little oil, then sweat out chopped peppers on top of that. Ladle in broth and chicken meat and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and pile high with cheddar, cilantro, avocado hunks, and tortilla chips.
  • Khao Man Gai: Warm the broth, adding slivered green onions at the end, and ladle into a bowl. In another bowl, pile the meat on top of hot, cooked rice doused with a tablespoon or so of broth. Garnish with cucumber coins, and a sauce made from minced ginger, green onions, and hot chiles, with just enough oil to bring them together, and salt to taste.
  • Skillet enchiladas: Blitz together a few sweet and hot peppers, plus a little garlic and onion, in a blender. Thin with broth till saucy, then spread all of it on the bottom of an oven-proof skillet. Roll up chicken and Jack cheese in corn tortillas, then nestle them side-by-side inside the skillet and smother with cheese. Bake till bubbly.

chicken only

  • Chicken Parmesan melts: Split an English muffin and toast it, open-faced, till just starting to get golden. Spread each side with herby mayo, top with poached chicken, and pour some tomato sauce over that. Sprinkle Parmesan over that, lay a slice of fresh mozzarella on each, and broil till bubbly.
  • Mighty winter fattoush: Mix shredded Tuscan kale or Swiss chard with slices of roasted produce (butternut squash, beets, fennel, radicchio wedges, etc.), poached chicken, and feta cubes. Whisk up a lemony vinaigrette, toast a torn-up pita or two that's been sprinkled with sumac, and combine.
  • Pita pockets: Slather tzatziki (or a quick mix of yogurt and chopped garlic and cucumber) all over the inside of a pita, heap with pickled vegetables, fresh lettuce tufts, and poached chicken. Hot sauce optional.
  • Easy tacos: Toss shredded poached chicken with lime juice and chopped cilantro. Spread Sriracha-spiked yogurt across a warm tortilla, layer with chicken and a simple cabbage slaw.

Just broth

  • Wonton soup: Finely chop raw shrimp, green onions, cabbage, and garlic, and stuff inside store-bought wonton wrappers, wetting the edges and pressing to seal. Drop in a barely simmering pan of broth till they float. Drizzle with sesame oil before serving.
  • Quick, smoky brothy beans: Sauté chopped shallots, tomato paste, garlic, and smoked paprika in oil for a few minutes, until dark in color. Pour in a drained, rinsed can of beans (or two!), and add enough broth to barely cover. Simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered. Top bowls with olive oil and crunchy salt, and eat with a spoon.
  • Not-miso: Drop shiitake and green onion slivers, plus small cubes of tofu, into a pot of broth and warm through. Spoonful of miso whisked in at the start, entirely optional.
  • Brown rice pilaf: Sauté garlic and a bay leaf in olive oil, adding brown rice when fragrant. When the rice is hot (just a few minutes), pour in enough broth to cover by an inch. Cook for 40 minutes total: 10 on high, uncovered; then 30 on low, covered. Discard bay leaf. (And yes, you could serve this with a side of the chicken.)

Do you roast or poach? Tell us in the comments.

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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


Barbara September 5, 2017
Brilliant - I love how you used poached chicken in many different cultural dishes - all in-depth but relatively easy. Thanks, Amanda!
Jade C. March 12, 2017
I once had the BEST curry chicken salad ever at a work potluck. When I asked for the recipe, the cook freely emailed it to me "Newman Marcus Chicken Salad"in the title and the words "Only use poached chicken!" In bold. I had no idea what it meant at the time, but looked it up and have kept poached chicken on hand ever since. It's so easy to slip into other recipes and take on trips to cut down on prep-time, the only downfall being that it's SO moist that it doesn't freeze very well due to all the ice crystals. I recently tried Jamie Oliver's roasted chicken in milk and like it, too, though, since its slow cooked in liquid for so long, it's not like your typical roasted chicken, and is just a slight bit tougher than poached chicken- mostly due to the first "frying" step. It holds together a little more if you want to have bigger pieces that don't fall apart so much, but is still very moist and tender.
Victoria C. February 27, 2017
FOOD52 - please get an edit or preview button for comments. Please, please, please.
Victoria C. February 27, 2017
We like dark meat best so what I often do with a whole chicken is cut off the legs, dividing them into thighs and drumsticks, and wings and use them to bake until crisp (salt and pepper, a THIN coating of peanut oil or melted duck fat [yum], baked at 400°F for one hour basting but not turning over) for dinner. Then I remove the back bone and split it in half, leaving leave the whole breast on the bone. I poach the split back and the neck if there is one with the whole breast, essentially the way Martha does the two breasts. Then I have white meat chicken for chicken salad or sliced chicken sandwiches (using the FOOD52's Carey Nershi's No-Knead Sandwich bread, recipe cut in half to make one loaf at a time in a Lodge Cast Iron loaf pan, which is my go-to sandwich bread).