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We were watching Rachel Ray make something-or-other when she instructed the viewer to “add the boiled chicken.” My husband said, “Boiled chicken? You just… boil a chicken?” Well, kind of, but not really. I thought of how many recipes include “3 cups diced cooked chicken.” Where do most people get that three cups of cooked chicken… do they buy one of those canned chickens (I have seen photos and that is as close as I ever intend to get to one of those)? Do they buy a rotisserie chicken? Or do they just turn to another recipe?

“Boiled” chicken is actually poached chicken. If you were to cook a chicken at a full boil for an hour…. oh God, I can’t even imagine what that would result in, but you wouldn’t want to eat it. To poach a chicken, you do bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat so it simmers. Result: lots of moist, tender chicken meat, and a bonus of delicious chicken broth.

So: put the chicken and all its guts in a stockpot (i.e. a pot that is taller than it is wide) or at least a pot that will hold the chicken comfortably. Add an onion (you don’t have to peel it – cut in half if it fits better), a carrot or two (also not peeled, but cut up), a stalk of celery (ditto), a bay leaf,  a garlic clove or two or three, and a few peppercorns.  No salt! Add cold water to cover the chicken. If you have some white wine or dry white vermouth lying around, pour a generous glug of that in too.


Put the pot on the stove, turn the heat on high, and wait…

As the water gets closer to a boil, you will see some yucky-looking foamy grey stuff rise to the surface. Don’t flip out. It’s coagulated juices and (yes) blood. If you have ever grilled a burger, you saw the same stuff form on top of the ground beef. When protein is heated to the boiling point, this happens. Just get a spoon, scoop it off and discard it, though it isn’t toxic – it’s just unsightly.


Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat immediately and let the chicken cook at a bare simmer. If the water level drops, add more water or white wine.

How to tell when it’s done? Poke around in the leg-thigh joint with a knife. If the juices are red or pink, it isn’t done. If they’re yellow or clear, it’s done. A 4 or 5 pound chicken will take around 60 to 80 minutes.  Now comes the messy part: getting a hot chicken out of the pot. Get a large bowl and a large carving fork, and carefully-but-quickly transfer the chicken to the bowl.  Let the chicken cool until you can easily handle it.


Once you can handle the chicken without burning the hell out of yourself, separate the meat from the bones & skin. Put the meat in one bowl –


and put the bones & skin back in the stockpot.


The chicken is now ready to eat or use in any recipe calling for cooked chicken. Store, covered, in the refrigerator – it will last about four or five days.

Return the chicken broth to a simmer and cook for another hour or two. Then strain and discard the bones, skin, and vegetables. You now have a very flavorful stock that can be used right away, or poured into a hot sterilized container (such as a canning jar or two) and stored in the refrigerator. The fat will rise to the top as it cools, effectively sealing the broth; the fat can easily be lifted off and discarded (or used as schmaltz, for which I will refer you to The Shiksa Blog). It will keep for about five days in the fridge, after which it should be re-boiled and re-poured into a sterilized container. Or it freezes very well; pour it into small containers of a size you’d be likely use (such as 1-cup), or pour it into ice cube trays, freeze, and store the chicken broth cubes in a freezer bag for a very fast, convenient way to utilize them.


2 responses »

  1. When Penny got the red-cover book on chinese cooking, we took immediate delight in the chinese poached chicken technique.

    The chicken may be brined if you want, but it must not be frozen when you start. Penny liked to remove the kidneys from the cavity – a spoon handle or fingernail works for this gross job, followed by a rinse with cold (and hopefully chlorinated) water to clear out the cavity (which of course you’ve emptied, because you wouldn’t think of cooking a paper-wrapped chicken liver in the same water as the rest, right?).

    It helps to have a stockpot – it works best in one, but you can do it with a soup pot but you’ll have to monitor the temperature more carefully – and it also helps to know how much water will be displaced by the chicken, because you want to fill the pot with water to the point where it will cover the chicken entirely, but not much more. You can find this by measuring with the chicken in the water and marking or measuring where the water comes to, but then you’ll need to dump the water and restart because otherwise you get froth from the chicken blood.
    So, do it once and memorize or write down where the water needs to be with the pot empty.

    Fill the stockpot with fresh water – we had weird tasting water so we would filter it, which was a pain, but necessary. Toss in a whole green (spring) onion, a quarter-sized slice of fresh ginger root, and possibly a single lightly mashed clove of garlic. Bring to a full boil.

    Once again, if you’ve got chlorinated water, since the chicken has been coming to room temperature, rinse it thoroughly to greatly reduce the unwanted bacteria.

    Then, slowly lower the chicken into the boiling water, allowing the cavity to fill from the bottom if you can. Then let the water come back to a boil. Once it’s boiling turn OFF the heat, do NOT remove it from the burner, but DO cover it immediately, and LEAVE IT ALONE for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, it will be poached perfectly for use in chinese recipes. It MAY be slightly pink, if it’s a large chicken, but it will be cooked. (Note, you may need to scoop the foam off, and a one-minute boil will get rid of it without overcooking.)

    Note that this works at close-to-sea-level. At high altitude, you may need to bring the water to a boil and hold it at a boil for ten minutes. If you do, you will need to scoop the foam off.
    But you will also still need to cover, turn off, and leave undisturbed for 45 minutes anyway.

    At this point you have a poached (NOT BOILED) chicken. The thighs and the breasts will all be equally perfectly done, and not dry. However, to get the full experience, you should immediately remove it from the water (which can be done by dumping it into the sink into a sturdy colander, if you have one and then dunk it immediately into an ice-water bath.
    The ice-water bath will do two things: Stop further cooking, and cause the stock under the chicken skin to set quickly into an aspic, protecting it from drying out. After four or five minutes in the ice bath, it’s traditional to pull it out, dry it off with a clean dry kitchen towel, and lightly oil the chicken with peanut or sesame oil, to prevent the skin from drying out and becoming nasty. It can be eaten almost immediately, or refrigerated for cold chicken dishes, or cut up and used in various chinese recipes that call for cooked chicken. It freezes OK, but is better unfrozen. We were able to keep it for up to a week in a (cold) refrigerator.
    It works better if you strip the meat from the bones first.

    Note that the neck, heart, and gizzard can also be cooked in the pot at the same time, or you can hold them for other uses. The neck and bones can be made into a stock. (Yes, you can re-use the poaching water if you somehow managed to save it, but you should boil it for three to five minutes before you start using it for anything else.)

    This method works best with a 2.5 to 4.5 pound chicken. If your chicken did not cook thoroughly, you can still use it for ingredients, but you’ll need to do the final cooking step to the meat first.

  2. Pingback: CHICKEN-AVOCADO ENCHILADAS | Eggs In Hell

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