How To Poach Chicken Breasts

updated May 15, 2024
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Banish all thoughts of stringy, tough, sad chicken from your mind. For our chicken salad sandwiches and quick chicken weeknight meals, we want nothing but the best. And for that, poached chicken is definitely the way to go.

This poached chicken method is easy, fast, and foolproof. Totally tender chicken breasts that are as good for dinner as they are for lunch the next day? Not a problem.

Poached chicken gets some flack for being “diet food,” and while it’s true that poaching chicken requires no fat for cooking and chicken breasts are naturally lean, there are plenty of reasons why poached chicken can stand on its own. But the biggest reason is that it results in soft, juicy chicken you can use so many different ways.

Quick Overview

How to Poach Chicken

  • To poach chicken, cover chicken boneless, skinless chicken breasts with water (for added flavor add 1 cup of white wine), bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover the pot with a lid.
  • Check the chicken every 8 minutes with an instant-read thermometer until it registers an internal temperature of 165°F in the thickest part of the meat.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

What Exactly Is Poached Chicken?

Poached chicken involves covering chicken pieces with water and letting them simmer on the stovetop until the chicken is cooked through. The low temperature and moist-heat cooking method cooks the chicken gently and prevents it from overcooking too quickly. The cooked chicken is moist and tender — the very opposite of tough.

Chicken Poaching Tips

I like boneless, skinless chicken breasts for this cooking method, but you can also use bone-in chicken breasts or even thighs or drumsticks.

  • Remove the skin. The chicken can be cooked with the skin on, but I prefer to remove it because the skin doesn’t really add anything with this cooking method (it’s more of a help when roasting or grilling).
  • Don’t toss the cooking liquid. I like to strain the poaching liquid and use it for soups and cooking grains. (Another reason to remove the skin: it makes the liquid overly oily.)
  • Add herbs and seasonings. To bump up the flavor, I add whatever aromatics I have in the kitchen — a bay leave, a few smashed garlic cloves, any herbs that need using up. If I have some leftover wine or an open bottle of beer, I’ll add some of that to the poaching liquid, too. All of these will season the chicken as it poaches, making it more flavorful and fun to eat.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

What to Make With Poached Chicken

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Chicken Salad Recipes to Try

How To Poach Chicken Breasts

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes to 15 minutes

Makes 1 to 4 cups

Serves 2 to 8 servings

Nutritional Info


  • 1 to 4

    skinless chicken breasts (bone-in or boneless)

  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon


  • Aromatics: smashed garlic, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon peppercorns, sliced ginger, fresh herbs, thinly sliced onions, or any other flavorings

  • 1 cup

    dry white wine (optional)


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  1. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on the bottom of the saucepan or pot large enough for them to sit mostly in a single layer. (It's fine if they overlap a little.) Sprinkle the salt and aromatics over chicken.

  2. If using wine, pour this over the chicken first. Pour in enough cool water to cover the chicken by an inch or so.

  3. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. You'll see some white scummy foam collecting on the surface as the water comes to a boil — if you'll be using the poaching liquid for a soup or other recipe, you can skim this off; otherwise, it's fine to leave it.

  4. As soon as the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and let the chicken simmer. Begin checking the chicken after 8 minutes: it is done when opaque through the middle and an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the meat registers 165°F. Chicken will typically finish cooking in 10 to 14 minutes depending on the thickness of the meat and whether it is has a bone.

  5. Transfer the chicken from the poaching liquid to a plate or clean cutting board.

  6. Poached chicken can be served hot, room temperature, or cool. It can also be served whole, or it can be sliced or shredded as per your recipe. If you cooked your chicken with the bones, you can pull or cut away the bones, return them to the pot with the poaching liquid, and simmer until the liquid is reduced. Once strained, this is a quick chicken broth that can be used for soups or rice.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftover chicken can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 3 months.