The rewards of poached chicken are many.
When I can’t think of what to make for dinner, I troll for ideas online at magazine sites and the odd food blog. Many of the recipes start with chicken, which catches me by surprise. Most of our protein comes from our freezer of beef and pork and beans, and I forget how ubiquitous this white meat bird is for family meals.
As I’ve mentioned in this turkey post, I don’t typically cook chicken because I can’t abide by the industrially raised chickens from the supermarket. But, I keep my ears out for local chickens.
At a recent party, a friend was talking about offing her old hens. “I’m not going to eat them,” she said.
“I’ll take them,” I said, feeling a little bloodthirsty.
But, honestly, what are we all going to do with the hens when they’re no longer laying eggs?
Only days later, another friend called offering some of the chickens she raised for meat, and soon I had a whole bird at my disposal. Naturally, my first thought was roast chicken, When my world is still mostly frozen (hello, April?), a bird roasting in the oven is as warming as a fire in the hearth.
But a second thought came, an old-fashioned notion that’s somehow gone out of style: poaching.
It’s so simple and so out of the ordinary, this gentle simmering technique. It’s not flashy with flame or dramatic with sizzling and sear. It’s a quiet method that feels like coaxing the food into a state of being cooked.
Poached eggs are, for me, a special occasion. And poaching is ideal for salmon, vegetables, like asparagus or carrots, and yes, chicken, too, often served with a rich sauce, like hollandaise. But it’s far from fussy or difficult, nor is it only for dieters.
Poached Chicken Breast
Here’s how I do it: Put 1-3 bone-in chicken breasts in a saucepan. Add enough water just to barely cover them and bring the water to a simmer uncovered over medium heat. (Add a pinch of salt and a bay leaf, garlic clove or parsley or cilantro stems for more flavor.) Reduce the heat to low to maintain a simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the heat to let the chicken stand in the water for 5 minutes. Transfer the breasts from the broth into a bowl until cool enough to handle. Skin, pull the meat from the bones and leave whole, chop, shred as desired.
The deal maker for me is that when you poach a chicken you get 3 for 1. And that makes Poaching capital P for Practical:
- warm meat for a dinner of chicken breasts to serve with some of the broth and wild rice or barley
- golden broth for homemade chicken noodle soup
- cold leftover meat for chicken salad, like this one
Vietnamese Chicken Salad with Cabbage and Peanuts
A very long time ago, I taught English as a Second Language in Bellingham, WA. One day a lovely young woman from Vietnam brought in this chicken salad, and I asked her for the recipe. After 20 years and I still have her original written in a neat and delicate, albeit faded, script so that I can share it with you.
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 large shallots, very thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound poached chicken breast, finely shredded
4 cups (about 1/2 medium head) very finely chopped red or green cabbage
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fish sauce
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup loosely packed mint leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
- Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil over medium-high heat in a medium skillet. Add the shallot slices and cook, stirring now and then, until they are begin to brown on their edges, about 6 minutes. Transfer them to a large mixing bowl.
- In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and shredded chicken and cook until the garlic is fragrant and the chicken begins to turn drier and crisp in a few places, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Add the cabbage, sugar, salt, fish sauce, lemon juice and black pepper to the bowl with the shallots. Toss well. Add the mint, cilantro and cooled chicken. Toss again and taste for salt, fish sauce and lemon juice, adding any more of those ingredients to taste. Chill until ready to serve.
- Serve in bowls topped with peanuts and a side of hot sauce, if you like.