Friday, September 14, 2012

Perfect Poached Chicken Every Time

Hands-on prep time: 2 minutes
Total time: a little over an hour

I used to overcook boneless skinless chicken breasts all the time.  I was so concerned about undercooking them that time after time I'd end up drying them out.  Even using a thermometer didn't seem to help.  I was so consistent at it that if I was planning on making a recipe using cooked chicken, I'd either roast up a whole bird the day before or if I was short on time, resort to buying a roasted bird. 

Then I discovered this nifty trick.  It's not ready-to-use in minutes like a traditional poach or saute, but the hands-on time is about 2 minutes and I can now produce perfectly cooked chicken every time.  It's completely foolproof.  If you can boil water, you can make perfect chicken.   

Choose a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid that is large enough to allow 3 or 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts to lay flat on the bottom without overlapping and deep enough to contain enough liquid to cover the chicken breasts by 2".  I use a deep 4 qt saucepan:

Fill with chicken stock to about 3" -- it'll take about two quarts of stock.

Trim your chicken well of any fat -- poaching with this method won't render the fat off like sauteeing in a very hot pan would.

Bring stock to a full rolling boil and with a pair of tongs slide the chicken breasts into the boiling stock, moving them around slightly as you set them on the bottom of the pan to prevent them from sticking.  Don't put in any more breasts than will fit on the bottom of the pan.  You don't want any overlap, and they shouldn't be crowded.  Return to the boil, cover with a tight-fitting lid and remove from heat.  Allow to sit until the pot has cooled just to the point you can place both palms flat on the sides of the pot for a second (the liquid inside will still be a food safe 140+ degrees).  This will take about an hour or so.  Et Voila!  Your chicken breasts are perfectly poached and ready to be diced for chicken salad or casseroles, sliced for sandwiches or salads, whatever.  Remove breasts from stock.  Look how perfectly cooked they are -- if you click on the photo to get to the larger version, you'll be able to see the meat is still juicy:

Use or wrap and refrigerate immediately. 

Bring the stock back to a boil, then strain (I use a cheesecloth) and freeze for the next time you use this method.  You can reuse the stock nearly indefinitely, adding more as needed to replace what's been lost to evaporation during boiling -- it just keeps getting chickenier -- but be aware of salt levels becoming concentrated.  I taste mine every so often, and once it's gotten to the point I don't want my cooking liquid any saltier, I add only unsalted stock or water to replace evaporation losses.  

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