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!
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.
1. 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.
3. 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.
The chicken on left was boiled 10 minutes and that on the right was poached 10 minutes.
The poached chicken on the right is juicier and moister than the boiled chicken on the left.