Poached Chicken Breast

5 from 11 votes
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Learn how to make poached chicken breast with juicy and tender pieces. It’s perfect for slicing and serving with a sauce or shredding for sandwiches, soups, salads, and more.

Slices of poached chicken breast on a white plate served with broccoli and potatoes.

Recipe Science

  • Poaching chicken breast involves cooking it gently in simmering water, which helps retain moisture and results in tender, evenly cooked meat.
  • The low-temperature poaching cooking method minimizes the risk of overcooking, preserving the chicken’s natural juiciness and preventing it from becoming tough.
  • Aromatics and seasonings added to the poaching liquid infuse the chicken with subtle flavors, enhancing its taste without overwhelming the natural flavor of the meat.

Why It Works

Poaching is a classic cooking technique that any home cook can master. I use this method to make eggs benedict and poached eggs. The key is maintaining a low temperature of the poaching liquid for even cooking. As a result, the chicken stays tender and juicy instead of getting dried out.

I use the poaching liquid for two purposes: to brine and to cook the meat. This yields evenly seasoned, flavorful chicken that’s incredibly tender. In just 30 minutes, delicious pieces are ready as an entree to serve sliced, shredded, or diced.

Ingredients You’ll Need

Ingredients necessary to make the most flavorful poached chicken.
  • Chicken: Boneless skinless chicken breasts are lean and low in saturated fat compared to dark meat. This will benefit from the delicate poaching technique. Breasts between 6 and 8 ounces ensure even and fully cooked pieces. I suggest slicing the meat in half into two cutlets if it is any larger. However, this method is great for using any size or type of chicken.
  • Water: The main component of the poaching liquid. It helps to dissolve and disperse the flavor ingredients. Use enough to submerge the chicken.
  • Soy Sauce: Enhances the umami taste. Don’t worry. It won’t intensely flavor the meat. I use a similar concentrated mixture to marinate chicken before grilling or pan-searing. Chicken broth or stock can be substituted.
  • Salt: Add salt to brine and season the chicken. It helps the poultry’s texture become tender and enhances the savory taste.
  • Sweetener: Honey, maple syrup, or sugar can be used. It balances the salt flavor and tenderizes the meat.
  • Aromatics: Add flavoring agents like crushed garlic, bay leaf, and fresh thyme or rosemary. Lemon slices, diced onions, sage, or oregano are tasty additions. These can be skipped or customized to complement how the chicken will be served.

See the recipe card below for all ingredients and measurements (US and metric).

Ingredient Substitutions

Now that you know how to cook chicken breasts using the poaching method, try switching up the flavor! Here are some tasty options to try:

  • Bone-in Meat: Breast meat with bones can also be used, making the liquid flavorful. However, you’ll need to add a few extra minutes of poaching time, as it takes longer for the meat to cook with the bone.
  • Dark Meat: If you prefer fattier dark meat, use chicken thighs or legs. Cook until the meat reaches 170ºF (77ºC) for super tender pieces.
  • Poaching Liquid: Add chicken stock or broth for a richer dimension of flavor. I recommend using unsalted so the poaching liquid doesn’t become too salty.
  • Aromatics: Using fresh or dried herbs like rosemary, thyme, parsley stems, tarragon, oregano, or bay leaves adds herbaceous notes to the meat. Lemon or orange peel will infuse a citrus flavor from the essential oils.
  • Spices: Whole peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, star anise, sliced ginger, dried peppers, or red chili flakes will add a stronger lingering warm flavor to the liquid.
  • Vegetables: Add diced carrots, celery, onions, fennel, or garlic to add a classic mirepoix taste.

How to Poach Chicken Breast

Whisk combining the poaching liquid ingredients together in a pot.

Step 1: Make a Flavorful Poaching Liquid

Poaching can be done in cold water, but that doesn’t add much flavor to the meat and will taste bland. Instead, season the water by adding pantry staples like soy sauce, salt, and honey to balance the sodium.

The cooking liquid can even be reserved to make a sauce, like a pan gravy. When poaching, I like to add thyme, bay leaf, and smashed garlic gloves for enticing aromatics and deeper flavor.

Two chicken breasts submerged in a brining solution to absorb maximum flavor.

Step 2: Brine the Chicken

To acheive the most tender and flavorful pieces, use the poaching liquid as a brine, then cook the meat right after. Cover the chicken with the liquid, then soak it in the pot for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Pro Tip: You can skip this step if you are short on time, but it does make a big taste impact. It also removes the chill from the meat, cooking it more evenly.

Instant read thermometer checking the poaching liquids temperature.

Step 3: Poach the Chicken

Warm the poaching liquid with the submerged chicken, turning the heat to medium. Keep a close eye on it until you see movement. No bubbles should be breaking the surface. Use an instant-read thermometer to measure the temperature; target 175 to 180ºF (79 to 82ºF) just before simmering.

Reduce the medium heat to low, cover, and cook the meat for about 17 to 20 minutes. Smaller pieces will require less time.

Metal tongs removed a poached chicken breast from a pot of liquid.

Step 4: Rest the Meat

Remove the chicken from the pot and test for doneness: The internal temperature should reach about 165 degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer.

Two poached chicken breasts resting on a wooden cutting board.

After the chicken is cooked, cover it and let it rest for at least 5 to 10 minutes before cutting. This allows the juices to be redistributed into the meat and not onto the cutting board.

Healthy dinner of sliced chicken breast with vegetables.

Step 5: Ready to Serve

Now, you can shred the chicken to add to your favorite recipes or slice it up and serve it with your favorite sauce.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long to poach chicken breasts?

Depending on the size and thickness of the meat, about 17 to 20 minutes when the meat reaches an internal temperature between 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC). Any hotter chicken will dry out.

Is poaching chicken the same as boiling chicken?

No! They are used synonymously to describe cooking chicken in a pot of liquid, especially for shredded chicken recipes. Boiling chicken starts with bringing the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer to finish cooking. Poaching never boils the water; bubbles rarely break the surface. This delicate process takes a little longer but yields more evenly cooked chicken.

Why is my poached chicken tough?

Most likely, the temperature of the poaching liquid got too hot. The ideal temperature is between 160 to 180ºF (71 to 82ºC). It’s essential to keep an eye on the pot, ensuring the liquid is not rapidly bubbling or even simmering. There should be slight movement with no bubbles.

What is poaching?

Poaching is a moist-heat cooking method often used to cook delicate foods that don’t need much time, like eggs, fish, poultry, and fruit. It uses convection to transfer heat from the cooking liquid to the submerged food. The temperature must be held between 160 to 180ºF (71 to 82ºC).
A visual way to check is that the liquid will have slight movement but no bubbles! This is very different from simmering and boiling.

What’s the benefit of brining then poaching?

Poaching chicken in just water will be bland. Instead, seasoning it with salt, sugar, and umami-packed soy sauce adds more flavor. Brining the chicken for 30 minutes gives the seasonings more time to flavor the meat. Adding salt to the poaching liquid breaks down the fibrous proteins. Don’t exceed this time, or it will taste too salty. This also saves cooking time, as the chicken will not be as cold when you’re ready to poach.

Recipes to use poached chicken

Serve with a Sauce

If you tried this Poached Chicken Breast, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it went in the 📝 comments below!

Poached Chicken Breast

Perfectly cooked poached chicken breast every time that is both juicy and tender. Serve slices with a sauce, or shred it for sandwiches, soups, and more.
5 from 11 votes
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time1 hour
Servings 2 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 2 quarts water, unsalted chicken broth or stock
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey, maple syrup, or granulated sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, 2 pieces, 8 ounces each
  • 2 sprigs of thyme, optional
  • 1 bay leaf, optional

Instructions 

  • Make the Poaching Liquid – In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, combine water, soy sauce, salt, honey, and garlic. Place the chicken inside without overlapping. Add the thyme and bay leaf if using.
  • Brine the Chicken – Let the chicken sit in the poaching liquid at room temperature for 30 minutes. This will take the chill off the meat and make it more tender and flavorful.
  • Poach the Chicken – Heat the pot over medium heat until the liquid reaches 175 to 180ºF (79 to 82ºC). There should be some movement but no bubbles on the surface. This will take about 7 to 10 minutes.
    Reduce the heat to low, cover, and poach, maintaining the temperature between 160 to 180ºF (71 to 82ºC). Adjust the heat level as needed. Cook the chicken until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC) on a meat thermometer, about 17 to 20 minutes. Smaller pieces will require less time.
  • Rest, then Slice – Transfer the chicken to a clean plate or cutting board. Cover with foil to keep warm, and rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Ready to Serve – Slice, dice, or shred for your desired use.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: About 2 cups of sliced or shredded chicken 
  • Serving Size: 1 cup
  • Larger Batch: Up to 4 chicken breast pieces can be added to the pot. 
  • Make it Gluten-Free: Substitute soy sauce with gluten-free tamari, coconut aminos, unsalted chicken stock, or broth. 
  • Storing: Store cooled chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. It can be covered with cooled-down poaching liquid for more flavor.
  • Reheating: Cover and microwave in 15 to 30-second increments until hot.
  • Freezing: Place in a resealable plastic bag for up to 4 months. Defrost when ready to use.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 2 servings
Calories 259kcal (13%)Protein 48g (96%)Fat 6g (9%)Saturated Fat 1g (5%)Polyunsaturated Fat 1gMonounsaturated Fat 2gTrans Fat 0.03gCholesterol 145mg (48%)Sodium 263mg (11%)Potassium 839mg (24%)Vitamin A 68IU (1%)Vitamin C 3mg (4%)Calcium 11mg (1%)Iron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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4 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Dave says

    Jessica, I’m a big fan and appreciate how you share your culinary science with us nerds. Nice guide. I’ll likely sous vide mine. Much easier to get the ideal temperature because I tend to “rubberize” it. :-\ Dave