Tender Poached Chicken Breasts Are My Easy, All-Purpose Meal Prep Secret
While you can’t beat the convenience, I’ve always been a little underwhelmed by the quality of store-bought rotisserie chicken…
And since I’m usually buying it to pick off the bone and use it in other recipes, I figured I could make a homemade version that’s more tender, juicy, and extra flavorful.
This poached chicken breast recipe is a quick alternative to buying rotisserie chicken at the store. The stove does all the work, slowly simmering the chicken breasts until they’re juicy and fall off the bone tender.
Plus, a big benefit of learning how to poach chicken breasts is that it’s endlessly versatile. I love using shredded poached chicken as a shortcut for many of my most popular recipes, like my well-loved Skillet Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuits, Quick & Easy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup, or my personal favorite Crispy Chicken Tacos.
Easy, hands-off cooking with just 5 minutes of prep required – a true staple recipe you’ll turn to again and again!
The #1 Secret to Tender Poached Chicken
The key to poaching chicken breasts is to gradually simmer the pot without ever allowing it to reach a vigorous boil. Sloooowly increasing the temperature gently simmers the chicken so it’s always juicy and tender – exactly what we’re after here!
For this reason, poached chicken and boiled chicken are not necessarily the same. While both methods simmer chicken in water, poaching is a much gentler cook that never quite reaches a hard boil. Boiled chicken, on the other hand, cooks in a rigorous boil – exactly why it’s often tougher than delicately cooked poached chicken!
I prefer using bone-in skin-on chicken breasts for this recipe because they result in the most juicy and tender meat. Leaving the skin on and bone in also means less prep work! If you want to use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, feel free.
How to Poach Chicken Breasts
Learning how to poach chicken breasts is an easy kitchen skill that you will turn to again and again! It’s a mostly hands-off process and the chicken is ready in 30 minutes or so. Very simple and always yields extra-juicy and flavorful results!
Assemble the poaching pot. Add the chicken breasts to a medium saucepan with aromatics and herbs. My go-tos are carrot, celery, onion, garlic, fresh thyme, salt, and black peppercorns. Once everything is nestled in the pot, pour in enough cold water to submerge the chicken by at least an inch. Why? ⇢ Cold water takes longer to come up to a simmer, allowing the chicken to cook gently so it’s extra tender and juicy.
Poach the chicken breasts. Bring the saucepan to a very gentle simmer. Foam from the chicken will start to form on the top – simply skim it off with a spoon and discard. Keep simmering for 20-25 minutes until the poached chicken breasts are nearly cooked through (about 160 degrees F). Tip! ⇢ While the stove handles all the work here, keep a close eye on the poached chicken to make sure it never reaches a vigorous boil, which leads to dry, tough chicken.
Rest. Remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and let it rest for about 10 minutes. Why? ⇢ A quick rest allows the chicken’s juices to to re-distribute and settle before shredding, ensuring it stays super tender.
Slice or shred the poached chicken. At this point, the chicken should nearly fall off the bone for easy slicing or shredding. Shortcut! ⇢ My favorite way to shred chicken is using the paddle attachment on my stand mixer (I swear this works!). It’s a life-changing kitchen hack, especially for those of us who can’t stand the sound of forks scraping on a plate!
✨ Recipe Bonus! Small-Batch Homemade Chicken Stock. ⇢ While the chicken gently simmers, the poaching liquid also transforms into the most beautiful aromatic chicken stock. Don’t let it go to waste – simply strain the liquid and store it for the next time you make soup, risotto, or sauce.
Easy Recipe Variations
The beauty of this poached chicken breast recipe is that it’s a versatile base recipe – you can prep it in a million different ways!
Varying the seasonings in your poaching liquid makes it easy to prep any meal imaginable. A few ideas to get you started…
- Taco seasoning – Add your go-to taco spice blend to the poaching liquid for any Mexican-inspired chicken dish, from taco bowls to enchiladas.
- Mediterranean spice blend – Use a blend of lemon zest, garlic, dill, and dried oregano for any Mediterranean or Greek-inspired chicken dish.
- BBQ dry rub – Add a punchy BBQ dry rub to the poaching liquid and use the meat for quesadillas, salads, or bowls.
- Buffalo – Toss the cooked chicken in a simple homemade buffalo sauce to make tons of buffalo chicken staples, from sandwiches to nachos.
Poaching chicken breasts is my favorite quick and simple meal prep. When you have shredded chicken on hand, it’s extra-easy to whip up a super satisfying lunch, dinner, or snack – perfect to enjoy all week long!
Some of my favorite ways to use shredded poached chicken breasts include…
- as an easy add-in to any soup.
- wrapped in a burrito, tacos, or a batch of Green Chicken Enchiladas.
- for making quick and easy casseroles like PWWB’s fan-favorite Skillet Chicken Pot Pie.
- tossed into salads like a hearty Kale Caesar or Cozy Autumn Grain Bowls.
- prepping a spread of game day eats like our favorite Crispy Sheet Pan Chicken Tacos.
I can’t wait for you to try this Perfect-Every-Time Poached Chicken Breasts recipe! Once you learn how to poach chicken breasts you’ll never have to buy store-bought rotisserie chicken again! It’s an endlessly customizable staple that you’ll turn to again and again.
If you do give it a try, be sure to let us know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo and tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. We LOVE seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!Print
I have two go-to methods for tender, juicy, and extra-flavorful shredded chicken. This Perfect-Every-Time Poached Chicken Breasts recipe is one of them, and it’s a great alternative to buying store-bought rotisserie chicken.
Gently simmering bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts with aromatic vegetables and herbs results in the perfect all-purpose shredded chicken for soups, salads, tacos, and more – with a bonus small batch of homemade chicken broth!
The secret to especially juicy and tender results is maintaining a verrry gently simmer, so be sure to watch the poaching pot carefully and adjust heat as needed.
I’ve written this recipe the way I like it most, with classic vegetables, poultry herbs, and bone-in chicken breasts, but you can make it with lots of other seasonings. Check the Blog Post, above, for plenty of guidance to get you started. ♡ Happy cooking!
- 2 bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts (approx. 1 ½ pounds)
- 1 medium carrot, roughly chopped into 4–5 large pieces
- 1 stalk celery, roughly chopped into 4–5 large pieces
- 1 yellow onion, quartered
- 8 cloves garlic, smashed open
- 10–12 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2–3 dried bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 4–6 cups cold water
- Prepare the chicken for poaching: To a medium saucepan, add the chicken breasts, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, thyme, salt, and peppercorns. Pour cold water over top – the total amount of water needed depends on the size of your saucepan and chicken breasts, use just enough to cover the chicken and vegetables by 1 inch (typically 4-6 cups).
- Poach the chicken breasts: Transfer the prepared saucepan to the stovetop over medium-low heat. After about 10-15 minutes, the water should reach a low boil. Use a spoon to skim any foam or scum that rises to the surface of the water and discard. Adjust heat as needed to maintain a very steady gentle simmer. Continue to simmer the chicken 20-25 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chicken breast (without hitting the bone) registers an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Remove the saucepan from the heat. (Note: This step is nearly entirely hands-off, though you will want to check in occasionally, adjusting the heat to ensure a steady simmer is maintained and/or adding more water as needed to ensure the chicken breasts stay fully submerged.)
- Rest: Use tongs to remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and transfer to a plate. Set aside to rest for 10 minutes – the chicken’s carry-over heat will raise the internal temperature to a safe 165 degrees F.
- Shred the chicken: Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, carefully remove the skin and breast bone, then shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces. You can do so using 2 forks, or my favorite trick: pop the chicken breasts directly into a stand mixer & let the paddle attachment do the work for you (I swear this works!).
- Serve immediately as desired: This all-purpose shredded poached chicken is one of my favorite staple recipes – use it any time you need shredded chicken. I love adding it to a salad for an extra kick of protein, it’s awesome for quick & easy chicken soup, casserole, tacos, & so much more. You can also easily zhuzh it up to make taco-style, BBQ, or buffalo shredded chicken – check the Recipe Notes, below, for more guidance. Enjoy!
Jess’ Tips & Tricks:
- Recipe bonus! ⇢ Small-Batch Homemade Chicken Broth: One of my favorite things about this poached chicken breast recipe is the fact that the poaching liquid is effectively the loveliest small batch of homemade chicken broth – a fun, built-in bonus! Simply strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve into a quart-sized container or jar. Seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 3 months.
- Chicken: While you can poach boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken thighs using this recipe, I’m highly partial to bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. They are a bit more forgiving and create a more delicious poaching liquid.
- Easy recipe variations: While I most often make prepare my poached chicken as described above – it results in the most perfect all-purpose shredded chicken that tastes just like a garlic herb rotisserie chicken! – you can easily adjust this recipe based on your preferred seasonings. Instead of fresh herbs, use your favorite spice blend or dried herb seasoning. If you’re using shredded chicken for a Tex-Mex-inspired dinner, season the chicken poaching liquid with a generous amount of taco seasoning. Toss the cooked & shredded chicken into your favorite sauces & condiments, like BBQ sauce, buffalo sauce, or salsa. Sky’s the limit with this versatile recipe!
Storage & Freezing:
- Storage & Reheating: Leftover poached chicken will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop until warmed through.
- Freezer instructions: Shredded poached chicken is also a wonderful freezer staple since you can quickly thaw it out and use it on sandwiches, tacos, nachos, salads, quesadillas, etc. for an easy dinner down the road. To freeze, transfer cooled shredded chicken to a freezer bag or container, or divide between multiple freezer containers for smaller portions – these are my absolute favorite freezer containers! Freeze up to 3 months. Defrost by placing in the refrigerator overnight to thaw, or by submerging the freezer bag/container in room temp water for 20-25 minutes. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop until warmed through.