Poached chicken produces beautiful juicy white chicken perfect for chicken salads and Keto meal prep. Learning how to poach chicken is easy and the results are amazing.
If you love chicken salad like I do, then you know tender chicken is the key to a good chicken salad. Whether you prefer a good curried chicken salad or a healthy avocado chicken salad without mayo, old-school poached chicken is the way to go!
With rotisserie chicken as an affordable option now-a-days, many people don’t know how to poach chicken for chicken salads or other dishes. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just don’t want to deal with another leftover rotisserie carcass and my freezer is full to bursting with bone broth.
Poaching thawed chicken breasts or fresh chicken breasts from the store is an easy option on those days I have a little extra time.
Poaching is a wet cooking technique resulting in tender juicy protein with no caramelization or browning. It’s commonly used with eggs, chicken, and fish, but poaching fruit in spiced fruit juice or wine is also popular. Poaching liquid is typically seasoned and imparts delicate flavor to proteins.
Although poaching is an easy skill to master, without the proper attention it can go wrong, leaving you with rubbery dry chicken. The most important tip I can share is to NOT let the poaching liquid come to a rapid boil. Cooking the chicken gently in the poaching liquid is the way to go!
How to poach chicken for chicken salad
Let the chicken come to room temp for 20-30 minutes before starting and gently pound to flatten to a more even thickness. Gather the aromatics for the poaching liquid.
Common aromatics are lemon, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme, dill, rosemary, onions, and garlic. Vary the aromatics depending on the finished dish. Add fresh ginger, garlic and dried chives for a Chinese inspired chicken salad or Indian inspired flavors for a curried chicken salad.
Place chicken into the pot in a single layer. Cover the chicken with cold water (or broth or add a little white wine) to the depth of 1 inch over the surface of the chicken. Season with plenty of salt. Bring to a low simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat down to low and cook for 8-10 minutes at a very slow simmer until cooked through.
The chicken is done when the juices run clear when pierced with a fork and the internal temperature is 170 degrees F. Remove the chicken when the thickest part of the chicken breast reaches 165 F (“carry over cooking” will bring it up to 170 F as it sits).
Let cool completely, then dice. Dicing while warm will result in ragged cuts (like in my photos) which may not matter if making a chicken salad, but may matter if the poached chicken is the star of the meal.
How to Poach Chicken for Chicken Salad
- 4 medium boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- 1 half lemon, sliced
- 1/4 small onion, peeled
- 1 large garlic clove, crushed
- 1 bay leaf
- 8-10 whole black peppercorns
- 1 handful fresh parsley
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- water to cover the chicken by 1 inch
- Let the chicken come to room temperature for 30 minutes and gently pound to even out the thickness a bit. Meanwhile, gather the ingredients for the poaching liquid. Slice the lemons, cut the onion and crush the garlic.
- Add a few cups of water to a large pot and stir in the salt. Add the chicken to the pot in a single layer. Add the rest of the ingredients finishing with more water to cover the chicken by 1 inch.
- Place the pot over medium heat and let the contents come to a simmer. Periodically, give the pan a gentle shake to help distribute the heat evenly. Lower the heat to low and let gently and slowly simmer for 8-10 minutes until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 170 degrees F. Another way to check if the chicken is done is to pierce the chicken with a knife or a fork and check that the juices run clear - not pink.
- Remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and let cool completely before storing in the refrigerator or using in chicken salad. (My chicken was still warm when I took photographs and it cut a little raggedly. Chilling the chicken before dicing yields the best result.)