Poached Chicken Breasts

Here’s how to poach chicken so it comes out juicy and flavorful every time.

Here’s how to poach chicken so it comes out juicy and flavorful every time.

It’s easy to think of poaching as an old-fashioned and slightly fancy-schmancy way to cook something. Poached salmon, for instance, would be something somebody’s grandmother might have had for lunch at a fancy department store about fifty years ago, right?

But poaching is a really useful way to cook things—especially things that can easily dry out, like chicken breasts. (It’s also really great for shrimp—here’s how to make it.)

Why? Because poaching is gently simmering food in liquid. The moisture around the food helps keep it juicy, and the slower, more gentle heat helps keep it tender.

One thing poaching doesn’t do is add a lot of flavor. You won’t get the savory, browned flavors of roasting or pan-searing, or the smoky notes of grilling. But sometimes that simple, straight-ahead flavor of the food itself is ideal. If you’re making a chicken salad, for example—the kind with mayonnaise and chopped celery—the mild flavor of poached chicken will keep your salad light and fresh-tasting. Poached chicken is also great on a green salad or grain bowl, in a sandwich or quesadilla, or in a noodle or pasta salad.

Now that I’ve convinced you that poaching is a good thing, a couple of tips to ensure your chicken comes out as juicy and flavorful as possible.

One, start it in cold water, and bring it up to a boil gently. Don’t boil your water first and then add the chicken—this can sort of shock the outside into immediately firming up and becoming tough.

Add plenty of salt to the water. My recipe uses 1 1/2 teaspoons and it might sound like a lot, but it really does take that much salt in the water to get enough into the chicken itself.

Optionally, you can add other flavors to your poaching liquid. For a basic poaching liquid, I like garlic, peppercorns, and parsley. If I was making chicken to go into something a little more hearty, though—a wild rice salad, for example—I might add heartier flavors to the poaching liquid, like sprigs of rosemary or thyme, or a couple of bay leaves.

For an Asian dish, I might add ginger and scallions to my poaching liquid.

But with the exception of the salt, all these additions will make only a subtle difference, so don’t fuss over it too much. Add what inspires you.

As soon as the water comes to a boil, take the skillet off the heat and let the chicken finish cooking by simply sitting in the hot water. It’ll take about 10 minutes for four breasts to reach 150°F.

150°F, you say? Isn’t chicken supposed to be cooked to 165°F??? Well, yes. But as the good folks at Thermoworks, the makers of the chef’s favorite Thermapen internal thermometer, explain in this deliciously food nerdy blog post, food safe temperature is a function of both temperature and time. In lean white meat, maintaining an internal temperature of 150°F for 3 minutes is as food safe as 165 F for 10 seconds.

So, poach your chicken to 150°F, let it rest for 5 minutes, and enjoy juicy, flavorful poached chicken every time.

Christine :)


Poached Chicken Breasts

  • Author: Allie McDonald
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 4


Here’s how to poach chicken so it comes out juicy and flavorful every time.


  • 4 (7-8 oz.) boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 cups cold water, or more if needed
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 810 peppercorns (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed (optional)
  • a handful of fresh parsley (optional


  1. Put the chicken in a skillet large enough to hold it in a single layer.
  2. Add the water and sprinkle the salt on top. (If the water doesn’t cover the chicken add more until it does.) Add the peppercorns, garlic, and parsley, if using.
  3. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat.
  4. Turn the breasts over, then cover the skillet and remove it from the heat.
  5. Let the chicken sit in the hot water until the internal temperature is 150°F, about 10 minutes. (The time will vary depending on the size of the breasts.)
  6. Take the chicken out of the water and let it rest at least 5 minutes before slicing or serving.
Poached Chicken Breasts

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