How to Poach a Chicken

Poaching a chicken is a great skill to have.  It's easy, delicious and is the basis for literally hundreds of recipes (I'll share one tomorrow!).  Poaching is a type of moist-heat cooking where the heat source is a liquid just under the boiling point (very few bubbles). Water is trapped to create a 'self-basting' atmosphere, but steam is released to prevent the water from getting too hot.   Bringing the water to the boiling point will ruin the meat.

Here are the things you'll need:

1. Parchment paper to make a 'poaching paper' which will serve as your 'lid' while the chicken poaches.

2. Bouquet Garni made of fresh herbs and cooking twine.

3. 2 cups chicken stock, 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, celery, 1 onion & 2 carrots.

How-to Poaching paper:

You want a piece of parchment that fits snugly inside your pot with a hole in the middle to let steam escape (see below - look closely to see the hole in the center).  Cut a piece of parchment paper from the roll thats larger than the circumfrence of your pot.  Trace the lid of your pot and cut it out.  When finished, fold it into squares and then roll to a point and snip off the end and you'll have a perfect hole.  Oronce you've cut the parchment paper, fold the paper into squares and roll it diagonally like you see in the first picture above.  Measure the parchment paper from the center of the pot to obtain the radius and snip off any excess (I did it this way but it took me a few extra snips to get the circumfrence just right so I think tracing the lid would probably be more accurate).

How-to Bouquet Garni:

A Bouquet Garni is a basic French technique that is used in stocks, soups and any liquid based cooking method.  You can make one with whatever you have on hand, as long as you have some cooking twine.   To make a true Bouquet Garni, bunch together 3 or 4 sprigs of parsley, 1/2 a bay leaf, 2 sprigs of thyme, the white portion of a leek and two cloves.  Wrap the items in the green leaf of a leek or between two ribs of celery and tie together with cooking twine.  I didn't have bay leaves or cloves, so I went a little heavy on the parsley and thyme.  You don't need to be precise.

And now, you're ready to poach!

Add 2 carrots cut into 2 inch pieces to a heavy bottomed pot.
Add 2-3 ribs of celery cut into 2 inch pieces.
Add 1 onion, peeled and quartered.
Rinse your chicken with water and pat dry.
Place your chicken in the pot with the veggies.
Add 2 cups chicken stock.
Add cold water so that your chicken is covered with 2 inches of liquid 
Bring the water to a simmer.  This means put your burner on low to medium heat.  Once bubbles begin to rise to the surface, just barely breaking, rueduce your heat a touch.  You want to maintain the light simmer so that the liquid barely bubbles.  
Add your poaching paper: it should cover practically the whole surface of the liquid other than a hole in the center (for steam to escape).
Cook for 8 to 12 minutes until the meat releases clear juices when pierced with a fork.

If you intend to use the chicken for a recipe immediately, pull the chicken from the liquid and let it cool (it will cook a bit futher).  If you intend to use the chicken for a cold chicken salad, undercook the chicken slightly.  Pull the pot from the heat and allow the chicken to cool completely in its liquid.  It will be perfectly moist and extra flavorful.

If desired, shred chicken with 2 forks!

Happy Poaching!



PS Next time you're at the grocery store, pick up parchment paper and cooking twine.  I seldomly use either, but I always have them on hand.  Its better to have them available for the rare occassion than head to the grocery store for all your ingredients and realize at the last minute that your local store doesn't carry it or that they're sold out.  'Cooking twine' is just 100% cotton undyed twine that's safe for cooking and roasting.  Parchment paper is paper that is coated in silicone to provide a non-stick surface even at high temperatures.  Wax paper is not the same - the wax coating on wax paper will melt at high heats.