I poach chicken breasts a lot, even though I don’t especially like the results. Poaching usually renders dry, flavorless meat, but I tell myself that I don’t mind because I’m going to use the chicken for other purposes: salad (with lots of dressing), stir-fry (with lots of soy sauce) or sandwiches (with lots of mayo and mustard). In other words, I can “fix” dry and flavorless.
But, thanks to Cook’s Illustrated, boneless, skinless chicken breasts finally get some respect. CI’s technique is straightforward — you brine the breasts in their poaching liquid for 30 minutes before cooking. Then you turn on the heat until the liquid registers 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, at which point you turn off the heat and allow the chicken to sit in its poaching liquid until the meat registers 160 degrees. This all takes less than an hour.
Don’t skimp on the amount of water when you fill your pot — 4 quarts assures that there’s plenty of residual heat to gently cook the chicken while it’s sitting off the heat. And although it sounds like there’s a lot of sodium with the soy sauce and the salt, they serve to only mildly flavor the chicken. It’s not salt overkill by any means.
Besides a big pot (I used a 7-quart Dutch oven), you’ll need two kitchen utensils for this recipe: a vegetable steamer basket and an instant-read thermometer.
Results? These were the first chicken breasts I’ve eaten that were actually juicy ( ! ) and…surprise, surprise…flavorful. You don’t believe me, do you? There’s no such thing as a juicy poached chicken breast, you say. And one with flavor? Go fish, you say.
You’re going to have to trust me on this one. Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t mess around — they test recipes ad infinitum until they come up with what they consider to be the very best, bulletproof method. Good tasting poached chicken breasts were the acid test for me and, as usual, CI didn’t disappoint.
Their warm chutney-like tomato-ginger vinaigrette is a tangy accompaniment for the chicken as well as for fish.
4 (8-oz.) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup salt (I used kosher)
2 Tbsp. sugar
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Cover chicken breasts with plastic wrap and pound the thickest parts until the breasts are a uniform thickness of about 3/4″ thick.
Whisk 4 quarts water, soy sauce, salt, sugar and garlic in a large Dutch oven until salt and sugar are dissolved. Arrange breasts on a steamer basket and submerge in the Dutch oven and let sit for 30 minutes.
Heat pot over medium heat until the water registers 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Cover pot, turn off the heat and let stand until chicken meat registers 160 degrees, about 17 minutes.
Transfer breasts to a cutting board, cover with foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Slice each breast into 1/4″ thick slices and serve.