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overhead view of Vietnamese chicken and cabbage salad with chopsticks

Why Poach Chicken Breast? 3 Very Good Reasons & this Vietnamese-Style Chicken Salad

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 other people’s 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?

Why poach?

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.

poached chicken and other vegetables ready to make a Vietnamese chicken salad at lynnecurry.com.

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:

  1. Place two 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 large pinch of salt and a bay leaf, garlic clove or parsley or cilantro stems for more flavor.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  • 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 Vietnamese Chicken & Cabbage Salad

Vietnamese chicken and cabbage salad in a bowl with peanuts and lemon juice at lynnecury.com.

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overhead view of Vietnamese chicken and cabbage salad with chopsticks
5 from 6 votes
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Vietnamese-Style Chicken & Cabbage Salad

A very long time ago, I taught English as a Second Language at a community college in Washington state. One day a lovely young woman from Vietnam brought in this chicken salad to class, 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. It's so worth frying the shallots and the chicken in advance! Note that this is a very mild dish (read: no chile pepper of any kind), so I recommend serving it with Sriracha or any other hot sauce on the side.

Course Main Course, Salad
Cuisine Asian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 13 minutes
Total Time 23 minutes
Servings 1 person
Author Lynne

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 large shallots, very thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup poached chicken breast, finely shredded
  • 1 cup very finely chopped red or green cabbage
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts
  • Sriracha or other hot sauce for serving optional

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool briefly.

  3. Add the cabbage, sugar, salt, fish sauce, lemon juice and black pepper to the bowl with the shallots. Toss well. 

  4. Add the chicken, mint and cilantro and toss again. Taste for fish sauce and lemon juice, adding any more of those ingredients to taste. 

  5. Eat warm or chill until ready to serve, topped with the peanuts and hot sauce on the side, if you like.

Comments

  1. Vietnamese salad is new to me. I have never used cabbage for any salad other than coleslaw this one with amazing flavours looks delish.

    1. This is one terrific way to use more cabbage. And it makes a wonderful light dinner or lunch. Hope you give it a try!

  2. This is definitely a good idea for dinner since its simple and quick ! Thanks for sharing Lynne!

    1. You’re the master of simple and quick, Fred. Thanks!

  3. It does sound mild. I would have to add a little pepper to kick it up a notch. You should also take her handwritten recipe and get it ironed on to a kitchen towel keepsake. That’s pretty cool.

    1. There is just enough black pepper in the salad to provide some spice but without making it markedly spicy. Of course, you can always add more to taste. Thanks for the keepsake idea.

  4. What a delicious chicken salad, I love the idea of lots of mint and coriander and yes please to some hot sauce 🙂

    1. I hope you find it to be as crisp and vibrant and satisfying as I do, Sarah.

  5. Well I have poached salmon, eggs and pears but not chicken. The salad sounds delicious and the meat would be so tender too. I guess I need to experiment with poaching chicken….thanks for the tips.

    1. Sounds poaching chicken will be a snap for you, Gloria.

  6. What I love about Vietnamese food are the lovely fresh ingredients. It’s so healthy and light. Some great tips here, I shall try this out on the family.

    1. You are so right, Nicole. It really does offer so much flavor and texture with a wonderful lightness. I think that’s part of why it’s so addictive. Hope you give it a try and let me know what you think.

  7. Michele Pope

    Hi Lynne! Sounds light & delicious! Happy Easter. Love, cousin Michele

    1. Hi there! So happy you think so. It makes a great working lunch, too! Hello to all of your people XOXO.

  8. I often finding myself poaching chicken to use in chicken salads or toppings for my salad. It’s super easy to make & I find it makes it more tender than pan frying or baking. Loving how you dressed it up with this pretty, little salad.

    1. Totally! And if you use this cold-water start method it is more tender for sure. Thanks Lynn.

  9. This recipe screams summer! It’s a fresh and filled with nice textures! My kind of meals!! Definitely going to make this soon! Yummy Vietnamese!

    1. Hope you try it soon, Marie-Pierre because the fresh herbs are in season right now.

  10. Yummy! This is such a delicious and finger-licking recipe, Lynne! I’ll have to try it!

    1. Thanks, Agness. Hope you do try it and let me know what you think!

  11. “Feeling a little bloodthirsty…” LOL. Cracking up over here. But really, this looks like a delicious salad and I appreciate the tips on poaching chicken!

    1. 🙂 Yeah, poaching is a great technique to include in the general cooking repertoire. And this salad is one of my favorites! Thanks, Amy.

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