How to poach a chicken breast

(and a recipe for Mulligatawny)

The most useful trick I ever learned in a cooking class was how to poach a chicken breast. Here’s what you do:

  1. Place a skinless, boneless chicken breast in a pan.
  2. Put enough water in the pan to cover the chicken breast.
  3. Bring the water in the pan up to the boil over medium-high heat.
  4. Simmer for two minutes.
  5. Turn the heat off.
  6. Let the chicken breast sit in the hot water for twenty minutes.

That’s it. So what do you do with the chicken breast once you’ve got it?

There’s an almost unlimited number of things you can do. You can season it with a little salt and pepper and eat it as-is for dinner. You can chop it up and put it into a green salad. You can chop it up and use it in a stir-fry. You can make chicken salad with it. You can slice it and put it in a sandwich.

Or you can make the following Mulligatawny Soup with it.


2 servings

2 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1—2 Tbsp. your favorite curry powder
2 cups chicken stock
¼ cup heavy cream
½ lb. poached boneless, skinless chicken breast chopped into ½ inch cubes (see above)
cooked rice (optional)
salt and pepper
parsley for garnish

  1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Saute the onion and apple in the butter until the onion is transparent and the apple has softened. Do not brown.
  3. Add the curry powder and stir for about thirty seconds.
  4. Add the chicken stock to the pot, stir, and simmer for about twenty minutes.
  5. Stir the chicken into the pot.
  6. Stir the cream into the pot.
  7. Bring the soup up to the boil and allow it to boil for about 1 minute.
  8. Put the soup into bowls, add a scoop of rice, and garnish with parsley. Salt and pepper to taste.

If the rice is used and served with a mixed green salad, this soup is good for a whole meal. I suggest you try making this soup with a single tablespoon of curry powder and if it’s too mild for your taste add a second tablespoon in step 3 the next time you make it. It’s supposed to be rather delicate. Curry powders and tastes vary.

22 comments… add one
  • Jeremy Tunnell Link

    It also works to use Olive oil instead of water.

  • It’s been my experience that there’s very little in life that can’t be helped with olive oil. 😉

  • Georgette Link

    Thanks for a great tip on how to poach a chicken breast; it came out perfectly moist and tender.

  • I’m glad it worked out for you, Georgette. I learned that method from a Chinese chef and I’ve found it to be easy and failsafe.

  • Jessica Link

    Thank you so much! I was cooking a recipe for my family and wasn’t completely sure how to poach my chicken, even though my home ec teacher taught us that a couple weeks ago! 😛 thanks again!

  • You’re more than welcome, Jessica. Feel free to prowl around. I’ve got lots of recipes on the site (I contribute to the Carnival of the Recipes every week).

  • Lance Link

    If you add half an onion and a smashed garlic clove, some celery leaves and bay and a little salt and pepper, not only do you get your perfect chicken but also some clear, well-flavoured stock for a first course or another day. (The salt doesn’t seem to leave the chicken any less moist.) Thanks for the recipe.

  • Bridget Link

    Exactly the clear answer that I was looking for.. .thanks!

  • Catherine Link

    Thanks for the great tip. I need to poach 4 chicken breasts for the recipe that I am making. How should I increase the cooking time in order to cook all of them together?

  • This is a marvelous method for poaching chicken breasts and I hope it works out as well for you as it has for me.

    I’ve never poached four at once but I’ve frequently poached two at the same time. Here’s what I’d recommend. First, make sure the pan you use is large enough to hold all of the chicken breasts you’re poaching in a single layer without overlapping. Then I’d increase the on-heat cooking time very slightly, say, to three minutes and check the chicken breasts after the 20 minutes off-heat time has elapsed. If they’re firm and springy to the touch, they’re done. You don’t want them either too hard (overdone) or too soft (undercooked).

    I also sometimes check for doneness by removing the thickest breast from the cooking liquid and cutting a small, deep slice. If the juices are clear, it’s done. If they’re pink turn the heat on for another minute, turn it off, and let them cook for another five.

  • Millligan Link

    If you use oil instead of water, then it’s no longer called poaching. It’s called confit.

    I find that adding a bouquet garnis to the water really adds to the flavour. And if you really want something special, use chicken stock instead of water.

  • Heather Link

    When you turn off the burner- does the pan stay on or off the burner? Does the thickness of the breast change things at all? Thanks,

  • Heather:

    Thanks for dropping by. I have a gas range so when I turn the burner off the heat goes off. If you’re using an electric range, remove the pan from the heat and turn off the burner. If my chicken breast is very thick I’ll usually increase the time on-heat very slightly. That’s something that, unfortunately, only experience can tell you.

    If you’ve followed the procedure and an extra-thick chicken breast isn’t cooked through, I advise bringing the pan back up to the simmer, then taking it off-heat and letting it sit another ten minutes or so.

  • Niki Link

    What if I have multiple chicken breasts? Do I increase the time? And if so, by how much?

  • You should be able to cook up to four chicken breasts at a time in roughly the same amount of time using this method. Increase the size of the pan and the amount of water so that all of the chicken breasts can be placed in the pan in a single layer and covered. Then follow the instructions in the body of the post and those in the comment just above yours.

  • Niki Link

    Alright. Thank you so much!

  • Katy Link

    Should I leave the pan uncovered or covered? (It’s fairly cool in my house, so I’d assume I should cover it, but will that overcook?)

  • Cover it. I doubt it will overcook it.

  • Andrew Link

    Does the size of the breast matter? The ones I’d be poaching are 3-4 inches thick.

  • Three to four inches is an enormous chicken breast. What we get here are mostly 1 to 2 inches thick. At that size it’s certainly no fryer.

    A roasting hen or capon might be that thick. If I were facing your situation I think that after going through the process once I’d check one breast at the thickest part and, if it still isn’t cooked, repeat the process.

    If it’s a stewing hen it’ll be tough whatever you do.

  • Carp Link

    Mulligitawny made with chicken? Now that I have to try 🙂

    The only Mulligitawny I know is from a Heinz can, and I imagine its a far cry from the real deal

  • Mary Link

    Just made your mulligatawny again. 🙂

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