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How To Make Tender Poached Chicken

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Tender poached chicken is easy to achieve using chicken tenderloins and the right cooking method.

I’ve said it over and over again: in cooking, the simplest things are often the hardest to get right, and poached chicken is a perfect example. Because chicken breasts are extra lean and poaching requires zero fat, poached chicken is typically really dry. Most recipes mistakenly call for simmering boneless skinless chicken breasts over very low heat until cooked through. I prefer to use chicken tenderloins, which are more tender than whole breasts. And instead of simmering the tenderloins over low heat, I place them in a pot of boiling salted water, immediately remove the pot from the heat and cover it with a lid, and let it sit for 15 to 17 minutes, or until the chicken is just cooked through. This method guarantees succulent chicken every time.

What You’ll Need To Make Tender Poached Chicken

how to poach chicken ingredients

Step-By-Step Instructions

In a large pot, bring 2-1/2 quarts of water and the salt to a boil.
bring water to a boil

Remove the pot from the heat and add the chicken.

adding the chicken to the hot water

Immediately cover the pot with a lid, and let sit, off the heat, for 15 to 17 minutes, or until the chicken is just cooked through.

covering the pot with a lid

Do not overcook!

cooked chicken in pot

Using tongs, transfer the poached chicken to a cutting board.

poached chicken tenderloins on cutting board

Let cool, then shred, discarding the tough tendon at the end of each tenderloin. Transfer the chicken to an airtight container, and refrigerate until ready to use. The poached chicken will keep for 3 to 4 days.

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Poached Chicken

Tender poached chicken is easy to achieve using chicken tenderloins and the right cooking method.

Servings: 4½ cups shredded chicken
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 15 Minutes
Total Time: 30 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 pounds chicken tenderloins

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, bring 2½ quarts of water and the salt to a boil. Add the chicken, immediately remove the pot from the heat, and cover it with a lid. Let it sit for 15 to 17 minutes, or until the chicken is just cooked through. To test for doneness, cut into the center of one of the tenderloins; it should be white throughout with no sign of pink. (Or insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the tenderloin; it should register 165°F.) Do not overcook.
  2. Using tongs, transfer the poached chicken to a cutting board. Let cool, then shred, discarding the tough tendon at the end of each tenderloin. Transfer the chicken to an airtight container, and refrigerate until ready to use. The poached chicken will keep for 3 to 4 days.

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Comments

  • I was not sure this method would work for me, but it did! I loved how easy it was to poach chicken using this method. Thank you for sharing!

    • — Lulu on August 6, 2022
    • Reply
  • My tenders must have been on the small side, as they were bordering on being overcooked already and I only left them in the water for 14 minutes. But I do love the simplicity of this method and the tenders are good. I was searching for instructions for these tenders since I’m on a pre-medical procedural diet of soft food. I don’t usually buy chicken tenders because they’re so costly, but I decided to go for broke on these. The diet is very limited and I really needed something that tastes good. This did the trick!

    • — Naomi on August 1, 2022
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  • Perfect every time! So tender and so easy!

    • — Pam on June 4, 2022
    • Reply
  • I just love your recipes! Just wondering, can you do this method with boneless thighs? Thanks!

    • — Diana on June 2, 2022
    • Reply
    • So glad you like the recipes! I don’t think you need to use this method for thighs as they won’t get tough like tenders. That said, you can do it if you’d like — they will just take longer to cook.

      • — Jenn on June 3, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi, Jenn,

    I had started cooking the chicken tenders in my usual way in boiling water when I remembered that I wanted to try your poaching method, so my attempt was not exactly what you did, but it was close, and it turned out tender and delicious! I took a photo to show you after shredding the chicken, but I can’t post a photo here, and I’m not on Instagram. I really appreciate learning about this poaching method that turns off the heat to poach!

    I’ve always wanted to be careful to cook chicken well enough because of salmonella, so for anyone who also worries about this, it might give you more peace of mind to put the tenders in boiling water for a few minutes first. Also, if you have trouble because some tenders are smaller than others, put the largest ones in first, wait 45 seconds and put in the medium ones, and wait 45 more seconds and put in the smallest ones. A little trouble, but well worth it to cook the tenders
    enough and not too much.

    That is what I was doing when I remembered that I wanted to make this recipe, so after I added all the chicken to the boiling water, I waited for the water to come back to a boil, and then I turned off the heat (gas goes of instantly). Unfortunately, I forgot to check how long since I had put in the chicken. I guessed about 4 minutes, so I timed it for ten more minutes sitting in the hot water, and then I took it up to the fridge. Yes, they come out more tender than my usual method of continuing to slowly boil for a few more mnutes, which I had called poaching. I used organic chicken tenders. I expect to check the timing better on this next time and make this my regular method. The meat seems very happy and not abused. 🙂

    Jenn, I wonder whether this method of poaching would be good for poaching salmon. I might try that.

    • — Nancy on May 27, 2022
    • Reply
  • I will never poach chicken any way other than this. Ever. This chicken was perfect – tender, juicy and as flavorful as chicken breast meat can be.

    • — Vicki Frederick on March 6, 2022
    • Reply
  • Perfect. Just what I was looking for.

    • — Jill on February 3, 2022
    • Reply
  • This is now my go-to method for meal prepping for the week. It’s so low effort for such great results. The tip to wait to pull the yucky stringy bit out until after the tenderloins are cooked is genius–usually I avoid tenderloins for exactly that reason. This produces moist, delicious results every time with no need to babysit it, so I can make it in the background while I prep veggies and salads for the week. Thank you!!

    • — Lainey H. on January 28, 2022
    • Reply
  • Love this! Have used it to make your various chicken salads or anytime I need to add cooked chicken to a chili or Buffalo dip, this is so helpful! Quick question, how/would this change if I wanted to double the amount of chicken? I want to make a huge batch of chicken salad for a potluck. Thank you!!!

    • — Katie on November 12, 2021
    • Reply
    • Glad you like it! You really don’t need to modify the recipe; just make sure you have a pot large enough to fit all the water/chicken. If not, you could always cook it side by side in two pots.

      • — Jenn on November 14, 2021
      • Reply
  • Is it necessary to add the salt to pot? I have to watch my salt intake.
    I love your site & recipes! Waiting for your 2nd cookbook to arrive.

    • — Chris on September 4, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Chris, no, it’s not absolutely necessary to add the salt to the pot. You just may need to salt the dish that you’re using the chicken in to give it a bit of flavor. And thanks in advance for your support with the cookbook! 🙂

      • — Jenn on September 6, 2021
      • Reply
  • Great healthy way to cook chicken. No added fat and very tender chicken. Great for salads and wraps. Thank you!

    • — Karen Volpato on April 5, 2021
    • Reply
  • I just tried this and the chicken was not cooked inside at all, what could have gone wrong?

    • — Esther on March 31, 2021
    • Reply
    • That’s really strange, Esther! Did you use chicken tenderloins and let them sit in the pre-boiled water for 15 to 17 minutes?

      • — Jenn on April 1, 2021
      • Reply
      • Yep followed directions exactly and they were totally pink inside

        • — Esther O Cartwright on April 6, 2021
        • Reply
        • That’s so strange. Perhaps your tenderloins were thicker than your average tenderloin. If you try this again, you may want to flatten/thin out the tenders a little bit by applying pressure with your palm. Sorry you had a problem with them!

          • — Jenn on April 6, 2021
          • Reply
          • I’m going to try again but I noticed in the paragraph you say
            “I place them in a pot of boiling salted water, immediately remove the pot from the heat and cover it with a lid, and let it sit for 15 to 17”
            but in the instructions it says to
            “Remove the pot from the heat and add the chicken.”
            which is what I did and perhaps it should have been the first way?

            • — Esther on April 11, 2021
          • Hi Esther, I don’t think that would make any difference (but I did align the wording so that it is consistent in the intro and the instructions). I hope you have better luck this time!

            • — Jenn on April 12, 2021
  • How would you alter this recipe for chicken breasts?

    • — Melissa on March 26, 2021
    • Reply
    • You’ll definitely get a more tender result with tenderloins. That said, if using breasts, I’d suggest cutting them into the size of chicken tenderloins and then follow the timing in the recipe. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on March 31, 2021
      • Reply
  • This is so easy! I tried it with very thin breast slices and it was far from dry. I used the poached chicken for Lemon Chicken and it was delicious.

    • — Mary Wilson on March 20, 2021
    • Reply
  • If all you have are large boneless, skinless breasts (not tenderloins), bring a large, heavy pot of water to a hard boil, add the chicken, cover, then turn off the heat. Go do something else for the next two hours. After two hours, the chicken will be perfectly cooked/tender, still plenty warm, and ready for use. Just don’t forget about them and go to bed; I speak from experience!

    • — Lisa Titus on March 18, 2021
    • Reply
    • Thanks, Lisa, I was wondering how different it would be with chicken breasts, which is what I always have on hand.

      • — Pam S. on March 18, 2021
      • Reply
    • I’m fanatic about food safety, so I wonder if this temp may be too low after two hours to be safe?

      • — MJ on March 18, 2021
      • Reply
  • Jenn, two questions . . . do you think I could substitute Greek yogurt (full-fat or low fat) for the sour cream? and do you think this would be a good dressing for a regular salad? If so, would you thin it out in any way? I can’t wait to make this!

    • — Judith on March 18, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Judith, I do think you could use Greek yogurt for the sour cream, but don’t think the dressing would be a candidate for other salads. Instead, you could try this Buttermilk Ranch. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on March 19, 2021
      • Reply
    • Worked perfectly! Quick and easy!
      Love it!

      • — S Harvey on April 11, 2021
      • Reply
  • Thank you for supplying a printable recipe for poached chicken!

    • — Diane on March 18, 2021
    • Reply

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