100 Techniques

Technique #29: Turn Off the Heat for Perfect Poaching

Our untraditional technique is anything but fussy. 

Published Oct. 3, 2023.

This is Technique #29 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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When we think of poaching, our thoughts turn to flavorful, tender chicken salads or to perfectly poached eggs perched atop green salads or English muffins.

Poaching is a much gentler cooking method than dry-heat options such as searing, roasting, and grilling since it allows the food to retain moisture and fat that would be squeezed out by other cooking methods. 

When done well, poached foods are exceptionally tender, moist, and clean- tasting, offering a blank slate that’s ideal for use in any number of creative applications.

Take the Fuss Out of the Poaching Process

We don’t advocate for the traditional method of poaching, however. It’s fussy and too hands-on, calling for maintaining a pot of water at a very specific temperature just below a simmer (160 to 180 degrees) for the duration of the cooking time. 

By taking away the fussiness, we created a foolproof technique for poaching.

The secret? Once you've added the chicken or eggs to the water, cover the pot, remove it from the heat, and let it stand until the chicken or eggs are cooked. The beauty of this technique is that it’s extremely gentle and mostly hands-off and results in succulent meat or perfectly poached eggs.

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Amp Up the Seasonings for Added Flavor

Cooking food in plain water doesn’t do much for flavor and has a somewhat deserved reputation for producing “spa food.” To combat this, we add seasonings directly into the water to infuse whatever we're poaching with flavor right from the start.

For superflavorful poached chicken, we season the water with soy sauce, garlic, salt, and sugar. In the case of eggs, this is as simple as adding salt and vinegar to the boiling water, which also has the added (and essential) benefit of helping the egg proteins bond together.

The Key for Intact Poached Eggs

Another way we prevent the egg whites from wisping away into raggedy threads in the water? Drain the raw eggs in a colander before cooking. It seems counterintuitive, but every egg contains two kinds of white, thick and thin. The thinner portion, which is most prone to spreading out, drains away, while the thicker portion clings to the golden yolk.

Step by Step: How to Poach Chicken

Now that you know the science behind the technique, follow these steps to achieve tender, flavorful poached chicken.

Step 1: Pound Your Chicken

Cover trimmed chicken breasts with plastic wrap and pound thick ends gently until 3/4 inch thick. Whisk water with salt and other seasonings in Dutch oven.

Step 2: Arrange Chicken in Steamer Basket

Arrange breasts in steamer basket without overlapping. Submerge in pot. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until water registers 175 degrees.

Step 3: Turn Off the Heat

Turn off heat, cover pot, remove from heat, and let stand until chicken registers 160 degrees. Transfer chicken to cutting board and let rest.

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Step by Step: How to Poach Eggs

Poaching eggs is much simpler than you might think. Just follow these steps.

Step 1: Crack Eggs into a Colander

Crack eggs into colander and let loose, watery whites briefly drain away. Transfer eggs to 2-cup measuring cup.

Step 2: Gently Add Your Eggs

Gently tip eggs into salted boiling water, one at a time, leaving space between. Turn off heat, cover pot, remove from heat, and let stand until whites closest to yolks are just set and opaque.

Step 3: Remove With a Slotted Spoon

Using slotted spoon, lift and drain each egg over pot.

Watch executive editor Elle Simone demonstrate how to perfectly poach chicken for salads.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Want to put your newfound knowledge of poaching to use? Try it with these recipes.


Perfect Poached Chicken Breasts

Hardly anyone poaches chicken anymore—and with good reason: The classic technique is fussy and leads to bland meat. We set out to change that.
Get the Recipe

Thai-Style Chicken Salad with Mango

Throwing together leftover cooked chicken, dressing, and greens is a way to put dinner on the table without much thought. Maybe that's exactly the problem.
Get the Recipe

Perfect Poached Eggs

The most vexing problem with poached eggs is keeping the whites neat and tidy. Gimmicky methods abound, but a few simple tricks and tools are all you need.
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Salade Lyonnaise

With an Italian assist, we crafted a version of this iconic salad of crisp bitter greens, poached egg, and salty cured pork that would be at home in any French bistro.
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Asparagus and Smoked Salmon Benedicts

Smoked salmon and asparagus lighten up and put a springtime spin on classic eggs Benedict.
Get the Recipe

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