Learn how to poach chicken breasts so that they are cooked perfectly every time! Versatile and delicious, chicken breast that is juicy and tender is easier to make than you think!
I used to think poaching chicken was hard to do.
I also thought poached chicken was really plain and boring…
…especially poached chicken breast.
Dry, boring, flavorless chicken breast…who would want to eat that? No thank you!
But then I decided to look into it more and realized that poaching chicken isn’t actually that hard.
And I also learned that poached chicken breast is actually really really good…when done correctly!
The Poaching Liquid
Just to cover the basics, poaching simply means to submerge food in a liquid and cook at low heat. The most common foods used for poaching are eggs, fish, and chicken. You can even poach fruit, like pears and apples!
At its most basic, you can simply poach chicken in water, and there is nothing wrong with that as you can then dress up the cooked chicken however you want. I poach chicken in water alone for my Chicken Rice Salad Medley as the plain chicken works well when mixed with the salad dressing and all the other ingredients.
However, you can add ingredients to the water, or use other liquids like broth or wine, to infuse the chicken with more flavor as it cooks. You can add fresh herbs, spices, onions, garlic, lemon wedges…you name it! There are so many ways to flavor up the chicken breast, depending on how you plan to eat it. I, personally, like to add the bottom sections of scallions, ginger slices, and salt for a slightly Asian take on the chicken.
One thing to keep in mind if you want to season the poaching liquid is to season it well. Don’t be shy because you want to be able to taste what you add to the pot to flavor the chicken.
Slow and Gentle Cooking
As I mentioned above, poaching involves cooking the food gently, which means keeping the heat low.
Use a medium sized pot where the chicken can sit in a single layer on the bottom. Add enough water (or liquid of choice) to make sure the chicken is completely submerged…covered by about 1 inch of liquid. Add in whatever seasonings, herbs, and other flavoring ingredients to the pot and heat over medium-high heat. Do not let water reach a vigorous boil.
When the water starts to gently “blurp blurp” bubble (not a technical term, by any means, but it’s descriptive!), use tongs to flip the chicken breasts over to ensure even cooking.
Oh, and don’t worry about any foam or scum you see floating to the surface of the water. It’s completely harmless, and if want to save the poaching liquid for using later, simply skim the foam or pour the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer.
After flipping the chicken breasts over, let them cook for about 30 seconds before removing the pot from the heat. Cover the pot with a lid and let it sit for 10 minutes. Do not peek! Just walk away and let the heat from the liquid continue to gently cook through the meat.
When Is the Meat Done?
Because chicken breasts can vary in size and thickness, the best way to check if the chicken breast is done is to check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer.
Chicken meat is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers at 155F/68C. Ten minutes should be enough time for the chicken to cook through, but in the event that it is not, simply place the chicken breasts back in the poaching liquid, cover the pot again with the lid, and check again in 5 minutes. It is best to check the chicken earlier as you can always cook it longer if it’s not done yet.
You can use this same recipe for poaching chicken thighs, skin-on or skinless. You can also poach bone-in chicken pieces, but keep in mind that they will take longer to cook through. For bone-in chicken thighs or drumsticks, for example, I would extend the off-heat cooking time to 20 minutes. As with the chicken breasts, check for doneness by checking the temperature with an instant-read thermometer, being careful to not touch the thermometer probe to the bone. If it’s not done yet, place them back in the poaching liquid for another 5 minutes and check the temperature again.
Now with the chicken breasts done, simply let it rest for about 5-10 minutes and it is ready for slicing!
How To Eat It
Oh let me count the ways.
As I mentioned above, poach chicken to use for my Chicken Rice Salad Medley recipe, or use it to make any mixed chicken salad. Slice it or chop it up for sandwiches or salads, or eat it alongside a hearty vegetable soup. It would also be a perfect topping for my Super Food Quinoa Bowl!
One of my favorite ways to enjoy poached chicken breasts is with Ginger Scallion Oil. It’s a very Chinese way of eating it and I just love how simple yet flavorful it is. You can serve it up with some hot rice and leafy greens for a very satisfying meal, but I also love eating it simply with the ginger scallion oil, all by itself.
One of the best things about poaching chicken breasts is that you can cook up a few at a time and store them for a few days in the fridge until you are ready to eat them. It’s also super handy to grab a slice or two of poached chicken to eat if you’re in a hurry and need something to tie you over.
Now you know that poaching is nothing to be afraid of and that chicken breasts don’t have to be dry and boring. Believe me, once I figured out how to poach them properly and realized how delicious they could be, I was converted! They can be juicy and tender and can be dressed up any way you like, making them incredibly versatile. This may become one of your favorite ways to cook chicken…it’s definitely become one of mine!
How To Poach Chicken Breasts
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- Enough water to cover the chicken breasts by at least 1-inch
- 1 tsp sea salt
- Lay chicken breasts in a single layer in a medium sized pot.
- Add enough water to the pot to submerge and cover the chicken by 1 inch.
- Add salt and any aromatic ingredients to the pot.
- Heat over medium high heat.
- Once water begins to bubble, use tongs to gently flip the chicken breasts over.
- Maintaining the heat so the water is only gently bubbling, let chicken cook for another 30 seconds or so.
- Remove the pot from the heat and cover with a lid. Let sit for10 minutes.
- Remove chicken breasts from the pot and check the internal temperature to make sure it has reached 155F/68C. If the temperature is below, place the chicken back in the pot, recover, and let sit another 5 minutes before checking the temperature again.
- Let chicken rest 5-10 minutes before slicing. Let cool completely before storing in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- You can also use skin-on chicken breasts, too, as well as chicken thighs (skinless or skin-on).
- If the chicken breasts you're cooking are thinner or smaller, they are going to cook faster, so check the temperature earlier.
- Checking the temperature early is better than waiting too long. You can always put the chicken breasts back in the poaching liquid to cook them longer, but you can't make them "uncook" if they are overdone.
- The timing for this recipe is for boneless chicken. If you want to do this with bone-in chicken pieces, let the chicken cook in the poaching liquid for 20 minutes covered and use the instant-read thermometer to help you determine when it is done: 155F/68C. Again, you can always check earlier than 20 minutes to be safe.
- Substitute water with chicken broth or wine or a combination.
- Season your poaching liquid with herbs, citrus, whole spices, chili peppers, etc.
- If you want to use the poaching liquid for future use, pour the liquid through a strainer or cheesecloth to strain out any scum from cooking the chicken.
- Store any leftover poached chicken meat in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a few days. Tastes best when eaten fresh.