Poached chicken. It sounds like a bland technique on an easily bland meat. But I’m telling you, poaching produces the most succulent chicken I’ve ever tasted, and in certain applications it elevates the humble chicken into a show-stopping protein.
Think of the desiccated hunks of chicken you’ve had on lifeless salads. The stringy and tough meat in chicken noodle soup. That unsatisfying texture is a result of aggressive cooking—too high of a temperature that turns chicken fibrous.
My method of poaching is a gentle cook, even if it doesn’t seem like it on paper. It involves boiling an entire chicken—yes, boiling—for 10 minutes covered, then turning off the heat and letting it bathe in the hot water for 50 more minutes. This cooks the whole chicken delicately but all the way through, resulting in silken meat. Furthermore, it’s chilled quickly in an ice bath to stop the cooking and tighten up the skin.
For the record, I’m firmly anti-flabby chicken skin, and yet I enjoy this version. I grew to love it because my in-laws are Chinese, and they’re great at making Hainan chicken rice and Sichuan-style “mouthwatering” cold chicken dressed in a peppercorn-chili oil sauce. This chicken is fantastic chilled and served with Cantonese-style ginger-scallion sauce.
As a bonus to this poaching method, you get delicious broth. When I’m poaching chicken for Chinese dishes, I add a few coins of ginger and some scallion stalks, which turns the broth fragrant and perfect for noodle and dumpling soups. (Be sure to skim and save the chicken fat!)
Of course, you can poach chicken in any liquid. You could experiment with a classic mirepoix, perhaps with garlic cloves and lemon, or poach in chicken stock for a doubly intense chicken soup, perfect for hearty soups or risottos. The only thing that must remain constant is 10 minutes boil, 50 minutes off heat, covered with a lid. All the times we’ve made this, never once did it turn out undercooked.
Don’t discount this cooking method because it involves boiling a chicken. The chicken turns out really, really great. I’ve never seen it last beyond one dinner.
Silky poached chicken (Chinese edition)
- One 3-4 lb. whole chicken, giblets removed if present
- 2 scallions, roughly chopped
- 2-inch piece of ginger, sliced into thick coins
Bring a deep pot of water to a rolling boil (make sure you don’t overfill the pot—the chicken will displace a good amount of water). Add the scallions, ginger and a few large pinches of salt. Carefully place the chicken in the pot breast side up. It’s fine if the water does not completely cover the entire chicken.
Place the lid on and let the chicken boil for 10 minutes. Shut off the heat and allow the pot to sit, covered, for 50 more minutes.
Remove chicken to an ice bath to cool. Once cold, remove from ice bath and pat dry. You may now consider lightly coating the exterior with toasted sesame oil and a sprinkle of salt. I like to chill the chicken until dinner time, which will make it easier to slice. Serve this with sweet soy, ginger-scallion sauce, or chili-garlic hot sauce (this is where you can use the skimmed chicken fat!). Or, shred this meat for soup or on chilled peanut noodles.