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Perfect Poached Chicken

  • Serves: 8
  • Prep Time:  10 min
  • Cook Time:  15 min
  • Calories: 98
perfect poached chicken sliced on a cutting board cooked in chicken broth, salt, bay leaf, peppercorns and garlic
Photography by Gayle McLeod

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts poached in lightly-salted water with bay leaves, garlic and peppercorn, are a moist, tender culinary blank slate—elegant in their absolute simplicity.

How To Make Poached Chicken Breast

Whether you slice it into rounds and serve alongside a green salad for a ladies-who-lunch-style supper (pass the Chablis, please), or add it to a simple salad for a quick weekday lunch, poached chicken is a fast and easy classic.

raw chicken breast, water, salt, peppercorns, bay leaf and a garlic clove in bowls to make perfect poached chicken

What is Poaching?

Poaching is a gentle, “moist-heat” cooking method that uses water or broth held at a low heat—always below a boil, usually barely at a simmer—to cook foods of all kinds. The ideal poaching temperature is between 170°F and 180°F. It’s important not to let the cooking liquid come to a boil or even a vigorous simmer or else (for all sorts of science-y reasons having to do with heat and moisture) you risk ending up with a tough piece of meat. Remember, poaching is a low-and-slow cooking method.

chicken breasts being poached in water, salt, peppercorn, garlic and a bay leaf

How to Poach Chicken Breast:

Patience is the key to a perfect poached chicken breast. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Begin by placing your raw, boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a wide, shallow pan.

  2. Cover with water. Add cold water to the pan and fill until the chicken breasts are fully submerged. Add the bay leaf, peppercorns and garlic.

  3. Bring the water gently up to temperature over medium heat. Here’s where patience comes in! Remember: low and slow=moist, tender poached chicken.

  4. Once you’ve reached a low simmer, reduce the heat. Turn the heat down to low and cover the pan.

  5. Wait, again. About ten minutes.

  6. Check for doneness! You want an internal temp of 165°F. Once the chicken is done, take it off the heat.

  7. Let the chicken rest in its poaching liquid for a few minutes, if you’ve got the time. The capacity of meat to hold water actually increases as it cools. As the chicken rests in the cooking liquid, it will reabsorb some of the moisture it released during cooking. This means ultra-juicy, succulent poached chicken.

perfect poached chicken sliced on a cutting board cooked in chicken broth, salt, bay leaf, peppercorns and garlic

How Do You Know When The Chicken Breast is Cooked?

Wondering exactly how long to poach chicken breasts to ensure moist, tender, perfect meat? As ever, the best way to check for doneness is to use a meat thermometer. After about ten minutes, you’ll want to stick an instant-read meat thermometer (this is our favorite) into the thickest part of the chicken breast. Once you get a reading of 165°F, consider that chicken poached!

perfect poached chicken sliced in a bowl with poaching liquid cooked in chicken broth, salt, bay leaf, peppercorns and garlic

Is Poached Chicken Healthy?

Boneless, skinless, perfectly poached chicken breasts are about as healthy as any food could be. No fat is used in the cooking process, and the chicken gets plenty of moistness from its gentle simmer in the poaching liquid so you can use skinless breasts without compromising any juiciness. Poached chicken breast is a lean, mean, delicious protein machine.

perfect poached chicken sliced in a bowl with poaching liquid cooked in chicken broth, salt, bay leaf, peppercorns and garlic

The Best Poached Chicken...

...is one that suits exactly your own tastes! Customize this poached chicken recipe and make all of your juicy, boneless, skinless chicken breast dreams (you have those too, right?) come true by playing around with the poaching liquid. A plain poaching liquid—just water and salt—yields a final product that is simple and versatile, but you can also flavor it with herbs and spices. Our favorite add-ins include:

  • Fresh herbs! Think a spring of rosemary, fresh thyme, or a handful of parsley.

  • Aromatics! Fresh peeled garlic cloves, some onion, or even whole peppercorns. Peeled fresh ginger is delicious, too.

  • Salt! This is a must—whatever else you add or don’t add, don’t skip a pinch of salt.

  • Broth instead of water! Swapping chicken broth for some (or all) of the water is an easy way to intensify the savory, meatiness of simple poached chicken.

  • A little wine or beer! If you’ve got some around, a pour of either white wine or beer will add dimension and complexity to the poaching liquid.

Can You Use Chicken Poaching Liquid?

Yes! Save that chicken-y liquid, especially if you tossed some herbs or aromatics. Strain, then refrigerate (if you’re going to use it soon) or freeze the ultra-light poaching liquid and use it as you would store-bought chicken broth. It will be lighter in flavor than traditional chicken broth, but (of course!) much more flavorful than water. Try using it in place of water the next time you cook rice or quinoa, or use it as a delicately-flavored soup base.

Our Favorite Poached Chicken Recipes:

Having poached chicken breasts in the fridge, ready to use at a moment’s notice, is probably our number one meal prep tip. Slice it, melt cheese on it, shred it—however you use it, it’s a busy cook’s best friend. Here are a few of our favorite poached chicken recipes:

Tools You’ll Need to Make Poached Chicken:

Did This Perfectly Poached Chicken Make it Into One of Your Dishes?

Be sure to post a pic to Instagram and tag @themodernproper and #themodernproper. We’d love to see how it turned out and fully expect to hear how much you loved it!

Perfect Poached Chicken

  • Serves: 8
  • Prep Time:  10 min
  • Cook Time:  15 min
  • Calories: 98

Ingredients

  • 2 large chicken breasts (about 1.5 lbs total)
  • 2 quarts Water or chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 peppercorns
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed

Method

  1. Place chicken breasts in the pan.

  2. Add cold water (roughly 2 quarts) to the pan until the chicken breasts are fully submerged. Add the salt, bay leaf, peppercorns and garlic.

  3. Bring the water to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat down to low and cover the pan.

  4. Simmer for ten minutes.

  5. Check for doneness! You want an internal temp of 165°F. Once the chicken is done, take it off the heat.

  6. Let the chicken rest in its poaching liquid for a few minutes. As the chicken rests in the cooking liquid, it will reabsorb some of the moisture it released during cooking.

  7. Slice the chicken and use as you please.

Nutrition Info

  • Per Serving
  • Amount
  • Calories98
  • Protein19 g
  • Carbohydrates0 g
  • Total Fat2 g
  • Dietary Fiber0 g
  • Cholesterol49 mg
  • sodium221 mg
  • Total Sugars0 g

Perfect Poached Chicken

Questions & Reviews

Join the discussion below.

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  • Esther ZEISET

    Is it ok to slow cook chicken, cool, refrigerate, to reheat for a big crowd without getting too dry?

    Yes, that should be fine. Reheat in the oven or slow cooker rather than the microwave for best results. Hope you enjoy Esther!

  • Cassie

    In the written part of recipe you state don’t forget to add a PINCH of salt. But recipe calls for 1 TBSP. Is this correct? Would 1tsp be better? I try to limit my sodium. Does the salt add to its tenderness? Thanks

    Hi Cassie, the salt in the water will add flavor to the chicken. If you need to limit your sodium feel free to only use a tsp of salt (or whatever amount you are comfortable with). Just keep in mind, it might not be quite as flavorful.

  • Shirley Hayward

    I thought I followed the directions, but the chicken was rubbery and I wonder what I might have done to cause that. It took a long time to come to a simmer because I was lower than medium heat to start out with. It did finally boil just a bit before I noticed and turned it down. I also noted that after the ten minutes that the temperature of the chicken soared past 165 degrees. I have poached chicken many times, without a detailed recipe. Sometimes it turns out nice and other times it comes out like these breasts, rather dry and rubbery. I would be so grateful if you could help me to understand how to cook them consistently. Thank you.

    I think you just overcooked them as you said the temperature soared past 165°F. I like to just keep a close eye on the temperature and pull them right at 165°F. When they overcook, they get dry and rubbery.

  • Anna Taylor

    Hi! Could I make this ahead of time and freeze it? And if so, how long do you think it would be good in the freezer for?

    You bet! I like to keep my cooked shredded chicken in the freezer for only a month or so. I am sure it's ok for a few months after that, but I personally like to use mine up fairly quickly.

  • Jenn

    I finally poached chicken that didn't turn out dry! Thanks for these instructions!

    Yay! Great job, Jenn!