Recipe Review

The New York Times Promised Me “Plush Chicken.” Here’s What I Got.

published May 4, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

There are many words used to describe cooked chicken — tender and juicy immediately come to mind — but in all my years of cooking and recipe testing, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it described as “plush.” That is, until I began researching the best chicken salad recipes and came across a very unique one from The New York Times.

The Times’ recipe employs a Chinese cooking technique that, as chef Barbara Troff describes it in her cookbook China Moon, yields chicken with a “plush” texture. The method involves adding bone-in chicken breasts to boiling water, then switching off the flame and letting the residual heat cook the chicken. Supposedly, the plush chicken is what makes the chicken salad so good (and why The New York Times has deemed it “the best.”)

Considering I was on a search for the best chicken salad, it only seemed right to test this method out for myself. Here’s what happened when I gave it a go in my kitchen.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

How to Make The New York Times’ Best Chicken Salad

You’ll start by boiling water in a Dutch oven that is two-thirds full, and also set up a kettle with boiling water. Once the water in the Dutch oven is boiling, add scallions and peppercorns and return the water to a rolling boil. You’ll then turn the heat off, add bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, and top the chicken with water from the kettle as needed to cover them completely. You then let the chicken gently poach in the water for two hours without turning the heat back on.

After two hours, check for doneness by cutting into the thickest part of the breast to make sure it’s no longer pink in the center. If it’s pink, bring the water back to a simmer over low heat and simmer for 10 minutes more. You’ll then remove and discard the skin and bones, pat the meat dry, shred or cut it into bite-sized pieces, then transfer it to a bowl. The recipe also mentions that you can continue to simmer the poaching liquid and use it as chicken stock at another time.

In another bowl, whisk together lemon juice, mayo, sour cream or créme fraîche, mustard or pickle brine, and salt and pepper. Pour this over the chicken, then add celery, onion, walnuts or pecans, and fresh tarragon. Toss until well-combined, then refrigerate the mixture for at least four hours. Garnish with more herbs before serving.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

My Honest Review of The New York Times’ Best Chicken Salad

I was disappointed by this chicken salad, particularly because the poaching technique wasn’t as foolproof as promised. My chicken breasts were on the larger side, and after two hours of poaching, I pierced the thickest part of the flesh and saw it was still pink. The recipe instructed me to bring the water to a simmer and cook 10 minutes more, but I was confused: Was I supposed to bring just the liquid to a simmer and then add the chicken, or bring them to a simmer together? I opted for the latter and after 10 minutes, my chicken was cooked through — and although it was tender, I wouldn’t describe it as plush. Was that because I had to reheat it? A little more clarity around this method would have been helpful, especially because there’s undercooked chicken involved.

Other than the poaching method, this recipe is pretty straightforward, although I found the flavor to be underwhelming. The nuts added nice crunch, but if they had been toasted, it would have given the salad a deeper flavor. Ultimately, this recipe wasn’t worth the two-and-a-half hours it took to poach the chicken. There are other ways to get equally great, if not better, results.

Credit: Amelia Rampe

If You’re Making The New York Times’ Chicken Salad, a Few Tips

  1. Try a different cooking method. This recipe could be made much more quickly using a different method to cook the chicken, such as baking or boiling.
  2. Toast the nuts. The un-toasted nuts got a little lost in the salad. Toasting them first would really enhance the overall flavor of the salad.
  3. Add some sweet things. If you like sweet bites in your chicken salad, like dried fruit, feel free to add them here!

Rating: 6/10

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn