How many times have you bitten into a chicken breast and wondered if you were actually eating cardboard? In our paranoia to avoid food poisoning from undercooked chicken, we tend to cook it to death, so it is beyond dry and completely tasteless.
The Chinese are masters at cooking chicken, and one of their famous recipes involves putting a whole chicken in a pot with a pinch of salt and a bunch of aromatics such as spring onions, star anise , slices of ginger or a few kaffir lime leaves. . Water is added to the pan so that it covers the chicken by about 5cm (about two finger widths), the pan is covered and just brought to the boil, then left to simmer gently. The bird simmers for just 20 minutes before being removed from the heat and allowed to cool completely for a few hours in the cooking liquid.
“No way,” I hear you say. “It will always be raw. And it will be bland. Give me roasted, fried or baked chicken any day.” But I promise you that when you follow this method, not only will the chicken be fully cooked (protein set, lighter, only very slightly pink near the bone), but it will have unmatched tender texture, juiciness and clean flavor .
The same technique can be applied to chicken breasts and it takes less time. For Mediterranean flavors, add aromatics like thyme, bay leaves, lemon slices and a few grinds of pepper; for Asian flavors, use the aromatics I mentioned above. Add a little salt and water to cover the chicken by about 5 cm, or two finger widths. Cover, bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 minute only. Remove from the heat and let cool, uncovered, for at least 1 hour 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the liquid (drain to use as stock), remove and discard the skin if necessary, and shred the flesh into large pieces or slices depending on your preference.
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Because it is never subjected to the high boiling temperatures that cause toughening, chicken will always be tender and juicy. And since there is enough water volume, it retains heat long enough to finish cooking. Once you know this simple method, you’ll never cook chicken for salads, sandwiches, and wraps any other way. And chances are you won’t even need to look at the recipe, it will just become a method you know by heart.
Little techniques like this can transform your cooking and eating experiences, which is why I’ve included a bunch of “stepping stone” recipes in my new book, Essential. These roadmaps detail popular cooking methods, whether you’re making a tender stew, chicken salad, noodle bowl, creamy risotto, frittata, or vegetarian grain bowl.
Understanding a recipe’s roadmap and where it takes you allows you to focus on the elements that actually matter in a recipe and means you can be creative with all the other ingredients you have. With your poached chicken ready to go, you’re ready to tackle all kinds of wonderful chicken salads.
Chicken salad with Moroccan vinaigrette
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Leftover roast chicken or a store-bought rotisserie chicken can also be used for chicken salad: simply remove the meat from the bones and discard it along with the skin and fat. Get the recipe
Coronation Chicken Salad
The trick with any chicken salad is to dress the chicken before adding any other ingredients. The flavors of the dressing penetrate the chicken and carry the flavors while keeping it moist. Get the recipe
Bang bang chicken salad
Regardless of how it is cooked, you will get maximum tenderness and juiciness if you eat cooked chicken immediately or after it has cooled to room temperature, without chilling it (the proteins in chicken, meat or fruits of sea settle when cooled).
If you are using poached chicken more than 2 hours after it has cooled, store it in its cooking liquid in the refrigerator until needed. It will keep for 4 or 5 days. Get the recipe
These are just three of the clever Springboard recipes from Annabel’s new book, Essential Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Media, $65), a beautiful compendium of more than 650 of her best savory recipes and cooking tips. Learn more at annabel-langbein.com or follow Annabel on Facebook or Instagram.