Poached chicken often gets a bad rap. A lot of people think it's bland and flavorless. But it doesn't have to be that way. I think poached chicken can be a kitchen lifesaver. You may have heard me say before that I always have cooked chicken in my fridge. There are so many quick and delicious meals you can make in just a few minutes if you already have cooked chicken. I often will roast chickens and pick the meat off, but if I haven't gotten around to doing that and I want some cooked chicken to use for a recipe (or just to eat!), then poaching is my next best go-to.
Poached chicken doesn't have to be bland or dry. I think the mistake most people make when poaching chicken, or when cooking chicken in just about any other method as well, is not enough salt. I was looking around the web at a few poached chicken recipes just to see how other people do it, and I was shocked at how little (or no!) salt most people use. Yuck. Of course you're going to end up with chicken that tastes like nothing. Chicken needs salt. It just does.
I needed some chicken today for the enchiladas I am planning to make for dinner tonight. So I poached some and thought while I was at it I would share with you how I do it. By adding some extra ingredients to the pot, not only do you get a more flavorful piece of chicken, but you also get a really delicious light broth.
My ingredients are just a guideline - you can put in whatever you like for flavoring, but this is just what I had handy today. Other veggies would be great, or parsley, or other herbs. I used green onions because I had them and I like the flavor, but a quarter of a yellow or white onion will work fine too. Add whatever flavors you like. Just don't skimp on the salt.
Here are the basic ingredients I used today:
- 1 carrot, broken in a couple pieces
- 1 stalk celery, cut in half
- 2 green onions, trimmed
- 1 1/2 T salt
- 1 T (about 3 cloves) crushed garlic, or more
- a splash of white wine
- 2 chicken breasts
- 3 -4 cups of water - enough to fully cover the chicken in the pot
Put everything but the chicken in a medium stock pot and bring to a slight boil. Taste it. Your poaching liquid should taste salty. Not like drinking a mouthful of ocean water salty, but maybe slightly saltier than you would want a good broth to be - the chicken is going to absorb a lot of the salt and will leave your broth tasting just right. If the liquid doesn't taste salty, then add a little more salt.
Gently place your chicken breasts in the broth, making sure they are fully covered. If they aren't fully covered, add a little more hot water, or more wine. Now simmer for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken. The pieces I got today were from some kind of mutant monster chicken - they were super thick, so I cooked them for 15 minutes. But small breasts might only need 10 minutes.
When you think they are done, take them out of the pot to rest. The way I tell if chicken is done is by pressing on it. If it really gives and feels very soft still, then it's not cooked, so put it back for a few more minutes. But if you press in the middle and it feels fairly firm, then it's done. This method requires a bit of practice and trial and error, but after you do it a few times you will get a sense for what a cooked piece of meat should feel like. I really try to avoid cutting into meat to check for doneness - that lets all the juices out and you end up with a very dry piece of meat. If you think it's cooked enough, then let it rest for about 10 minutes on a plate. It will finish cooking a little, and stay much more juicy.
Now you can slice or dice the chicken to use in salads or on sandwiches. Or you can pull it apart into shreds for a soup or a casserole. The lightly flavored broth makes the basis for a delicious mild soup, or it's wonderful to just drink a cup on a rainy afternoon. You can also use it again - I actually added two more chicken breasts to my pot and cooked them in the same liquid, so now my broth has more chicken flavor. I will be using some of it as a base for a spiced tomato gravy that I use in my enchiladas, and the rest I will probably just drink.