Learn how to make poached chicken breast with juicy and tender pieces. Perfect for slicing and serving with a sauce, shredding for sandwiches, soups, salads, and more.
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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 juicy instead of getting dried out.
I use the poaching liquid for two purposes; a 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.
Boneless skinless chicken breast is very lean and will benefit from the delicate poaching technique. Breasts between 6 to 8 ounces are ideal to ensure even and fully cooked pieces. Any larger, and I suggest slicing the meat in half into two cutlets. However, this method is great for using any size or type of chicken.
Bone-in meat can also be used, making the liquid very flavorful. Although you’ll need to add a few extra minutes of poaching time, as it takes longer for the meat to cook with the bone. If you prefer dark meat, use chicken thighs. Cook until the meat reaches 170ºF (77ºC) for super tender thigh pieces.
What is poaching?
Poaching is a moist-heat cooking method that’s often used for cooking 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).
There are two ways to poach
- Shallow Poaching: The liquid comes about halfway up the sides of the food. A buttered parchment paper or lid is used to cover. This combines poaching and steaming into one method. A small amount of liquid is added to prevent boiling.
- Submersion Poaching: The liquid completely covers the food. You need only enough liquid to submerge the ingredients.
Make a flavorful poaching liquid
Poaching can be done in something as simple as cold water. But that doesn’t add much flavor to the meat and will taste bland. Instead, make a savory solution by adding pantry staples like soy sauce, salt, and honey to balance the salt. The cooking liquid can even be reserved to make a sauce, like a pan gravy.
- 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: A generous amount brines and seasons the chicken. The texture becomes 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.
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 at room temperature in the pot for 30 minutes.
You can skip this step if you are short on time, but it does make a big taste impact. It also takes the chill off the meat to cook it more evenly.
How to poach chicken
For perfectly poached chicken, I use submersion poaching. It’s quick and easy. Heat the poaching liquid with the submerged chicken over medium heat. Keep a close eye 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 heat to low. It’s perfectly cooked when the meat reaches about 160 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer.
Rest the meat
After the chicken is done cooking, cover it and let it rest for at least 5 to 10 minutes before cutting. This allows the juices to redistribute into the meat and not onto the cutting board. Now you can slice it up and serve it with your favorite sauce, dice, or shred the chicken to add to your favorite recipes.
Poached chicken is versatile to use as a main dish or ingredient for a protein boost.
Recipes to use poached chicken
- Chicken enchiladas
- Chicken salad sandwich
- Chicken nachos
- Buffalo chicken pizza
- Chicken noodle soup
- BBQ chicken sandwiches
- Chicken vegetable soup
- Lemon chicken orzo soup
- Chicken and rice soup
- Chicken tacos
- Chicken tortilla soup
- White bean chicken chili
Sauce to serve with poached chicken
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.
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 more time but yields more evenly cooked chicken.
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 that the liquid is not rapidly bubbling or even simmering. There should be slight movement with no bubbles.
The benefit of brining first and 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 more time for the seasonings to flavor the meat and break 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.
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Poached Chicken Breast
- 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
- Make the Poaching Liquid – In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, combine water, soy sauce, salt, and honey. Place the chicken in a single layer in the pot. 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 for more even cooking 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). The liquid should have some movement but no bubbles on the surface. This will take about 7 to 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, maintaining the temperature between 160 to 180ºF (71 to 82ºC). Adjust the heat level as needed. Cook the chicken until it reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC), about 17 to 20 minutes.
- Rest and Slice – Transfer the chicken to a clean plate or cutting board. Cover with foil to keep warm, and rest for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting. Slice, dice, or shred chicken.
- Recipe Yield: About 2 cups of sliced or shredded chicken
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Larger Batch: Up to 4 pieces of chicken breast 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.
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