How to Boil Chicken
Right this way for juicy chicken, perfect for chicken salad and other meal prep.
By Dana Beninati for Food Network Kitchen
Dana is a host, chef and sommelier.
What if we told you that boiling chicken is not about boiling at all? This effortless technique is a total misnomer, but a timeless cooking essential, nonetheless. If you love chicken salad, buffalo chicken sandwiches, or chicken noodle soup, then this technique is a must-have in your culinary toolkit. Keep reading to learn all the secrets behind perfectly boiled chicken.
Our Guide to Boiling Chicken
Our recipe for Perfect Chicken for Salads is the easiest way to maximize flavor while minimizing effort. It yields 4 to 6 servings of tender, juicy chicken breast that will serve as a blank canvas for any upcoming meal. Let's break it down step-by-step:
1. Pick Your Chicken
We begin with skin-on, bone-in chicken breast halves, but you can use any part of the chicken. In fact, you can even cook a whole chicken with this very method. Note that cooking time will depend on the quantity and cut of chicken pieces you select. While skinless, boneless chicken pieces are totally fine, we recommend skin-on, bone-in chicken for the added flavor the skin and bones provide.
2. Build Your Cooking Liquid
Next, the chicken pieces are placed in a saucepan and submerged in liquid to cook. A general rule of thumb is the liquid should rise above the chicken by at least one inch. This is your first opportunity to amplify flavor, by using stock instead of water as the cooking liquid. We add other flavor boosters to the stock like herbs, aromatics and vegetables. This recipe calls for fresh parsley and thyme but any herbs, including dried options like bay leaf, will heighten flavor. Aromatics like citrus peels, fresh ginger or whole garlic cloves will also go the distance here. make Finally, we include onions, carrots and celery to further flavor the mix. If you don’t have these specific vegetables, mushrooms fennel, or scallions would be great additions as well.
3. Cook Your Chicken
Now here is where things get tricky - While most assume boiled chicken is boiled, it is in fact poached in 3 easy steps. The saucepan is brought to a boil and then (1) the heat is lowered, (2) pot is covered and (3) chicken is left to poach for 20 minutes. Why not boil until cooked? Well, keep in mind that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which is appropriate when cooking fibrous things like vegetables or pasta. This temperature is too aggressive for the protein structure of poultry and will result in dry, chewy chicken – no thanks. Instead, cook chicken at a lower temperature range, between 160 to 180 degrees, to create tender and juicy chicken that is never overcooked. If you don’t have a thermometer to test the cooking liquid, just use your eyes. When water boils, it has rapidly moving bubbles. When poaching, you should only see small, occasional bubbles along the sides of the pan. Once properly cooked, the chicken will be opaque and firm, but not rubbery. The pan is then removed from the heat and allowed to cool. Cooling before cutting acts as further insurance for juicy chicken.
4. Store Your Stock and Chicken
The chicken is removed from the cooking liquid, which has now become a fortified stock. Did I hear someone say they were craving Chicken Noodle Soup? If you are not ready to use the stock immediately, it should be skimmed, strained and stored for future use. We recommend freezing stock in ice cube trays for easy storage. Frozen stock lasts in the freezer for up to 6 months. As it is simple to defrost and add to any recipe, it has massive meal prep potential. Try your hand at this Basic Gravy to see just how easy frozen stock is to use. Next, and most importantly, the chicken. The bones and skin are discarded so the delicious meat can be cut in variety of ways for assorted meals. Boiled chicken can be stored for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator and up to 3 months in the freezer. Your chicken will be so flavorful, it will not last that long. Give it a test fun in Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese to see what we mean.
How Long to Boil Chicken
The cooking time required to poach various cuts of chicken varies, depending upon by size, thickness and structure of the pieces being cooked. Consider the following to determine the required cooking time:
Skin-on vs. Skinless
Skin will amp up the flavor of both the chicken and its respective stock, but it does not impact cooking time. Because of this, we recommend always leaving the skin on when poaching chicken.
Bone-in vs. Boneless
Bones impart both flavor and moisture to chicken while cooking. Therefore, chicken cooked on the bone will always be our top choice. However, bone-in chicken pieces do require more cooking time than their boneless counterparts.
Fresh vs. Frozen
Chicken can be poached directly from the freezer, without being thawed. To do this, increase the cooking time by 50%. For example, when making our Perfect Chicken for Salads with frozen breasts, poach the chicken for 30 minutes, instead of 20.
When poaching a whole chicken, be sure to select a pot large enough to accommodate the whole bird. The pot should be double the size of the chicken. Poaching a fresh, whole chicken will take about 1 hour and 30 minutes, depending on its weight.
Chicken Breast vs. Thighs
Boneless chicken breasts poach in 15 minutes, while bone-in require 20 minutes of cooking. Their neutral flavor and low fat content give them massive meal prep potential. If you are pressed for time, note that hicken thighs cook more quickly than breasts. Boneless thighs poach in 10 minutes, and bone-in require only 15 minutes. Thighs also have higher fat content, so their flavor is more robust.
Chicken Temperature When Done
No matter the cooking method or cut, chicken should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. When checking the temperature, be sure to insert a probe thermometer into the thickest area of the chicken piece.
Perfect Shredded Chicken
Two forks make light work of shredding poached chicken, especially when warm. If you are looking for the fastest method, break out your trusty electric mixer. Once the skin and bones have been removed, a mixer will shred cooked chicken in the blink of an eye. An electric mixer is also a great way to shred warm chicken without scorching your hands, but be sure to cool it completely before storing. For more info on shredding chicken, head over to our story How to Shred Chicken 2 Ways.
Ways to Flavor your Boiled Chicken
Boiled chicken is the ideal component of any weekly meal prep menu because of its versality and ease. Here are some tips to further enhance its neutral flavor:
- Brine or marinate before poaching. It can prove difficult to season boiled chicken with dried spices or herbs. Instead, try brining or marinating the chicken before poaching. While this brine is a favorite for the holidays, it can be used on chicken year round.
- Poach in something more flavorful than water. As noted, we recommend poaching in chicken stock to amplify flavor, but vegetable or mushroom stock works well too. If you don’t have any stock, look to other items in your pantry like a splash of vinegar or a jar of tomato sauce for this Marinara Poached Chicken from Frozen.
- Store in the cooking liquid. Boiled chicken tends dry out easily in the refrigerator. To avoid this, store the chicken in its cooking liquid. Just be sure to cool both before refrigeration.
- Top with a flavorful sauce. Boiled chicken is a fantastic mealtime companion, because you can take it any direction with the simple addition of a sauce. Store-bought sauces are readily available, but we love to make our own. For example, this recipe for Poached Ginger Chicken is a crowd favorite. This Garlic Herb Sauce is delicious on poached chicken, but we imagine you will want to slather it on just about anything.