Why Boiled Chicken is BAD!

Take a look at most recipes for chicken salad, casseroles, and other items that need cooked chicken and invariably they’ll probably list “boiled chicken” among the ingredients.  Most people will probably then put the chicken in a pot, cover with water, add salt and pepper if we’re lucky, and then proceed to boil it until done.   STOP!!!!   Sure..the recipe calls for boiled chicken but I’d only recommend doing so if you like dry sawdust-like bits of chicken.  The worst thing you can do is boil your chicken!

WHY?

I’m so glad you asked!!!  Have you ever gotten into a bathtub or jacuzzi that was hotter than you expected?  Most likely you tensed up and quickly jumped out.  Well, chicken is going to do the same thing (ok, so it probably won’t jump out of the pot…at least we hope not).

Most people assume and think that because they’re cooking proteins surrounded by liquid that they can’t overcook or dry them out.  Absolutely false!  If you’ve ever had overcooked scrambled eggs you’ve seen firsthand what happens when high heat comes into contact with proteins.  The proteins contract and tighten like small sponges and squeeze out any moisture they once contained.  Thus, you end up with hard rubbery egg curds surrounded by that milky liquid which was once contained within the proteins.  The same is true with chicken…if it is boiled or cooked too quickly and rapidly, or for simply too long, the proteins contract tightly and squeeze the moisture out.  The same goes for any cooking technique but the issue with steaming, boiling, simmering, and poaching is that people assume the moisture of the cooking technique will prevent the protein from drying out.

Well Then…What Am I Supposed to Do?

Great question…I’m so glad you asked!

The answer is to poach the chicken rather than boil it.  Poaching is a much more gently method of cooking in a liquid and is better suited for proteins so that they are less likely to overcook and toughen.

Aromatics for Poaching -compressed1.  Start with a flavorful liquid.  For chicken and poultry, start with chicken stock and add aromatics such as celery leaves, onions, parsley stems, peppercorns, bay leaves and garlic.   Be sure to season with salt as well to help enhance the flavors and pull the liquid into the flesh of the chicken.  An acid such as white wine or a little lemon juice will also help round out the flavors of the poaching liquid.

2.  Bring the mixture to a simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse throughout the stock.

boiling poaching liquid - compressed3.  Once the poaching liquid is well-flavored, bring up to a boil and then turn off.  Immediately place chicken into the pot and cover with a lid or tightly with foil.  If you’re cooking on an electric stove, remove the pot from the burner to prevent residual heat from continuing to boil and simmer the liquid.  Let the covered pot sit for about 10-12 minutes (15-20 minutes if cooking chicken on the bone) off of the heat.

4.  Remove the lid and remove chicken from the poaching liquid.  Use as desired…either serving as desired/needed or cooling and shredding and cutting into pieces for use in casseroles, salads, and other items or freeze for future use.

Whole breasts boiled & Poached - compressed

The chicken on left was boiled 10 minutes and that on the right was poached 10 minutes.

Boiled & Poached Chicken-compressed

The poached chicken on the right is juicier and moister than the boiled chicken on the left.

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111 Responses so far.

  1. jerry says:

    I am poaching a whole chicken right now. Took it out of the fridge 1/2 before placing the chicken in a pot of boiling water. I have a hard time believing it will be cooked in 30 minutes

  2. chefdarin says:

    The chicken needs to be broken down into individual pieces when doing it on the bone. You can’t do the chicken in its whole form.

  3. jerry says:

    After one half hour the chicken temp was 170 which was the same temp as the broth. So I turned the stove on until the broth temp was 190 turned off the stove came back twenty minutes later and I have the best chicken I have ever tasted. It was cooked to perfection. I stripped the carcass of all the meat and placed the carcass back in the broth on a very low simmer. In a couple of hours I’m going to have the tastiest chicken soup.

  4. solom says:

    What if I want to use the poaching liquid as a fatty chicken soup, do I still turn off the heat before putting the chicken? or should I boil it for a few minutes?

    And can I roast the poached chicken in the oven?

  5. garysnail says:

    Is this risky?

    I once saw someone mention something about dangers like salmonella, and he was talking about fried chicken, deep fried in boiling oil for 10 minutes, being risky because it was slightly “pinkish”.

    Although your chicken doesn’t seem to have a pink tint, so maybe it is cooked enough? I don’t know really, are there no risks with this cooking of chicken off-heat?

  6. Kristen says:

    Who knew??!! Thank you so much for this!! Can I put it in the oven for awhile to get a crispy outside afterwards?

  7. Michael says:

    Thank you chef for this great write up. I was actually perusing Google for information on boiling chicken to give to our Shi Tzu who we are nursing back to health after a scare last week. Your information and simple to follow directions were spot on. Everything came out perfectly.

    Cheers!

    Michael

  8. chefdarin says:

    No, don’t put it in the oven or else it will dry out. Poaching chicken is a method to use when you’re serving it with a sauce over it, or are using the cooked chicken in another dish.
    If you want chicken with a crispy exterior you’ll need to use a dry-heat method from the beginning such as roasting, baking, grilling, sauteeing, etc.

  9. chefdarin says:

    The only risk would be the same risk as with any cooking method, and that is not cooking it long enough. Chicken and turkey should cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. It doesn’t have to be on direct heat to do so. As long as you’re not using mega-thick pieces of chicken breast, or butterfly them before you cook them, they should cook in the specified amount of time. If they aren’t done, remove them and bring the liquid back to a boil and put them in for a few minutes to finish. Also, have the chicken out at room temperature for about 30 minutes before putting it in the cooking liquid so that it isn’t ice cold when it goes into the pot.

  10. chefdarin says:

    Whether or not you’re using the liquid as a soup you should turn it off once the chicken is in it to allow it to cook gently. If you’re using it as a soup, you can simmer for a longer period in advance to infuse more flavor upfront before bringing it to the final boil before adding the chicken. You could also simmer with more aromatics after the chicken has been removed.

    There is no need to roast the chicken after poaching it. The only result will be dry chicken which was the point of poaching in the first place. If what you want is chicken with a crispy skin or exterior, you need to use a different cooking technique such as roasting or baking from the beginning.

  11. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for posting this method. It is a great alternative to boiling when the recipe calls for shredded chicken, as many of mine do. Thanks!

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