Poached chicken breasts are either offensively bad or transcendently good—and, sadly, the scale tips drastically in favor of the former. But that’s just because most people don’t know how to poach chicken breasts properly. From this point forward, you will not be one of those people. You will poach chicken perfectly, leaving dry, chewy poached chicken in the rear view mirror.
But wait, what is poaching? It’s a cooking method we mention a lot less frequently than roasting or frying or grilling. To poach something is to cook it while submerged in a liquid at a low temperature (read: not boiling). That liquid could be oil, milk, or wine, but we most frequently poach in seasoned water.
Cooking chicken breast in water does not sound glamorous. And most of the time—when people overcook and mistreat their chicken—it isn’t. But the gentle, gradual heat that poaching provides can actually lead to one of the most tender, succulent, perfectly cooked pieces of white-meat chicken you’ll ever eat. Here’s how to nail it every time:
Start with 4 cups of cold water and 2 large chicken breasts (about 1 lb., 4 oz. total) in a sauce pan. (This ratio of water-to-meat is important; larger breasts will take longer to cook, and smaller breasts will overcook more quickly. And if you want to cook more chicken, add another 2 cups of water per breast.) Cold water is key here, because it allows the chicken to cook way more gradually than it would if you just dumped them into already-boiling water.
Season the water with 3½ tsp. of kosher salt. This might seem like a ton of salt, but trust us. Only a portion of it ends up on the chicken. Seasoning your water aggressively ensures that your chicken will be well-seasoned and actually taste like…chicken. (But in a good way!)
Turn the heat to medium and bring the water to a gentle boil. As soon as you see the surface of the water start to roll, flip the breasts over with tongs, remove the pot from heat, and cover it with a tightly fitting lid. The chicken breasts will continue to cook gently in the hot water.
Now that you know how to poach chicken breasts, go make a salad!