Perfect Poached Chicken Breasts

From Cook's Illustrated | March/April 2014

Why this recipe works:

Poaching can be the best way to gently cook superlean modern chicken breasts, but the standard approach isn’t foolproof and offers little in the way of flavor or pizzazz. We took the guesswork out of poaching by starting the chicken breasts in cool water, bringing the pot to 175 degrees over… read more

Poaching can be the best way to gently cook superlean modern chicken breasts, but the standard approach isn’t foolproof and offers little in the way of flavor or pizzazz. We took the guesswork out of poaching by starting the chicken breasts in cool water, bringing the pot to 175 degrees over medium heat, and then removing the pot from the heat and cooking entirely with gentle, residual heat. We used lots of water (4 quarts) to ensure plenty of reserve heat, which would do the cooking, and raised the breasts off the bottom of the pot with a steamer basket for even cooking from top to bottom. To up the flavor ante, we added salt, soy sauce, sugar, and garlic to the poaching liquid for meaty, rich-tasting breasts. Finally, to boost tenderness, flavor absorption, and juiciness, we took an unusual approach and brined the breasts directly in the poaching liquid before turning on the heat and cooking them. The result is supertender, juicy chicken breasts that pair well with simple sauces.

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Serves 4

To ensure that the chicken cooks through, don’t use breasts that weigh more than 8 ounces each. If desired, serve the chicken with one of our sauces (see related content) or in a salad or sandwiches.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. 1. Cover chicken breasts with plastic wrap and pound thick ends gently with meat pounder until 3/4 inch thick. Whisk 4 quarts water, soy sauce, salt, sugar, and garlic in Dutch oven until salt and sugar are dissolved. Arrange breasts, skinned side up, in steamer basket, making sure not to overlap them. Submerge steamer basket in brine and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

    2. Heat pot over medium heat, stirring liquid occasionally to even out hot spots, until water registers 175 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off heat, cover pot, remove from burner, and let stand until meat registers 160 degrees, 17 to 22 minutes.

    3. Transfer breasts to carving board, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice each breast on bias into 1/4-inch-thick slices, transfer to serving platter or individual plates, and serve.

Tender, Juicy Poached Chicken That Tastes Good, Too

Traditional poaching is a fussy procedure that requires constant monitoring of the cooking liquid and fiddling with the stove to ensure that it stays at a subsimmer—the main hallmark of this method. Our approach is gentler, requires no monitoring, and even adds flavor to mild chicken.

USE LOTS OF WATER: In traditional poaching, only an inch or two of water is used. We use a full 4 quarts.

ADD FLAVOR BOOSTERS: Most flavorings in a cooking liquid can’t migrate very far into meat. We add a few that can: soy sauce, salt, sugar, and garlic.

PROP UP CHICKEN: Elevating the chicken on a steamer basket ensures that none of the meat will be in contact with the bottom of the pot and all sides will cook evenly.

COOK COVERED, OFF HEAT: Bringing the cooking liquid to 175 degrees, covering the pot, and cooking the chicken in residual heat is foolproof and hands-off.

Poaching Liquid That Doubles as a Brine

We use our well-seasoned poaching liquid not only to impart flavor to the chicken as it cooks but also as a solution in which to brine the meat before turning on the heat. Letting the breasts sit in this liquid for 30 minutes at room temperature has its benefits: the salt (along with the sugar and flavorings) gets a jump-start on seasoning the meat and breaking down proteins to create more-tender chicken. Furthermore, the chicken loses its chill, so it needs less exposure to the heat to come up to temperature.

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