Somewhere in the quest for the body beautiful, plain poached chicken became the fodder of dieters. And with that, any idea of gastronomic indulgence and 'the poach' fell by the wayside.
As someone who lives their life mouth-first, I can only describe this as a great culinary injustice. Poaching is a wonderful way to add flavour, improve texture and prevent any dry and cooked on the outside, raw in the middle chicken misadventures. When done well, poached chicken is unsurpassed. Here are four ways to glorify poached chook.
A common poaching method is to add the chicken to simmering or boiling liquid. Some say simmer the chicken until it's done while others tell you to remove the pot from the heat as soon as the chicken is added then let it stand for 40 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked through. I prefer to cook the chicken over a really low heat for about an hour. Yes, it is far more time consuming but it never subjects the chicken to the higher temperatures of boiling water that can cause the meat to toughen. I've used a few methods here – so I encourage you to try them and find your favourite.
All recipes serve 4-6
Sri Lankan curry poached chicken with cucumber herb salad, yoghurt and chilli
This poaching liquid is used for the chicken as well as the rice and lentils – it imparts amazing flavour so why stop there – strain it off and reduce it down to spoon over the chicken, or dip some piping hot naan into it.
1 tbsp rice bran oil (or other flavourless oil)
1 red onion, chopped
10 fresh curry leaves
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 star anise
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
½ tbsp ground turmeric
1 ½ tbsp Sri Lankan curry powder (or a medium strength curry powder)
400ml coconut milk
100ml chicken stock
500g-600g chicken thighs
Rice and lentils
1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
additional chicken stock, if required
1 continental cucumber, cut into ribbons (using a mandolin)
½ cup coriander leaves, roughly chopped
¼ cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
10-12 fresh curry leaves, coarsely torn
½ cup salted coconut chips
black sesame seeds
1. Add the oil to a heavy based saucepan and place over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add the spices, curry powder and leaves and stir constantly to prevent catching. Cook until there is a heady aroma then add the coconut milk and stock. Bring to the boil then add the chicken and immediately remove the pan from the heat. Cover with the lid and let stand for 30 to 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Depending on the size of the chicken thighs, start to check if the meat is cooked from about the 20 minute mark – it should be just firm to the touch; if unsure, slice it to see inside.
2. Remove the chicken from the saucepan, reserving the poaching liquid, and set aside. Return the poaching liquid to the saucepan and add the rice and lentils. Place over medium-low heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the lentils are cooked through and the rice is soft. Check it regularly and add more chicken stock if required.
3. While the rice and lentils are cooking, toss the salad ingredients together.
4. To serve, scoop the rice and lentils into a large serving bowl, top with the chicken and cucumber salad then dollop over some yoghurt, chilli relish and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds.
Arrange this aromatic salad on a large serving platter. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Lemongrass, ginger and kaffir lime poached chicken
This dish is wonderful warm or cold. If you are planning on eating cold or as leftovers the next day, pack some extra peanuts and fried shallots separately, as these will soften. If you choose not to make the nuoc cham dressing there are some great deli versions available. If you don't like the crunch of raw beans, quickly steam them before serving.
2 lemongrass stalks, bruised
1 x 5cm knob ginger, sliced
½ cup Asian master stock (or chicken stock)
5 kaffir lime leaves, coarsely torn
400g chicken breast fillets, at room temperature
400ml coconut milk
Nuoc cham dressing
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp palm sugar
juice of ½ lime
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 red chilli, very finely chopped
175g rice stick noodles
1 cup green beans, topped and tailed
1 medium-sized cucumber, peeled and sliced into rounds
½ cup Thai basil, leaves picked
½ red onion, thinly sliced
2 kaffir lime leaves, deveined and very finely sliced
½ cup roasted peanuts
2 tbsp fried shallots
extra Thai basil leaves
1. Add the poaching ingredients to a medium-sized saucepan and place over low heat, so that it is just below simmering. Cook for approximately one hour or until the chicken is cooked through and just firm to the touch.
2. Gently remove the chicken, place into a bowl and shred the meat using two forks. Reserve the poaching liquid and add a tablespoon or so to the shredded meat.
3. To make the nuoc cham dressing, place the fish sauce, vinegar, sugar and water in a pan over medium heat and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to just below boiling point, then set aside. Once cool, add garlic, chilli and lime juice and stir to combine.
4. Bring the reserved poaching liquid to a rolling boil. Add the noodles to the pot (if the noodles aren't generously covered, top up with a little chicken stock) and cook for 3 minutes (or for length of time suggested on packet instructions).
5. While the noodles are boiling, add all the salad ingredients to a large serving platter or bowl. Strain the noodles and add to the serving bowl. Top with shredded chicken and garnish with fried shallots, peanuts and extra Thai basil. Drizzle with nuoc cham dressing to taste, then serve.
Middle Eastern rice bowl with chicken poached in almond milk. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Middle Eastern poached chicken, spice roasted pumpkin and rice bowl
Poaching the chicken in the almond milk gives a glorious velvety result and is a delicate contrast to the sweet, smoky and spicy pumpkin.
Baharat and maple pumpkin
500g pumpkin, sliced into 5cm wedges, skin on
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp baharat spice mix, or to taste
Almond milk chicken
600g chicken breasts (about 2-3 fillets)
2 cups almond milk
1 tsp toasted cumin seeds
1 cup basmatic rice, rinsed
2 tbsp butter
1 small brown onion, finely diced
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp allspice
¼ tsp cumin
¼ tsp ground coriander
1 ¾ cups chicken stock
2 tbsp sumac
4 tbsp butter
½ cup almonds, roughly chopped
½ cup pistachio kernels, roughly chopped
1 tbsp sesame seeds
chopped mint leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Line a large baking tray with baking paper and spread out the pumpkin. Add the olive oil, maple syrup and baharat and, using your hands, toss to coat. Roast in the oven for between 45 minutes and an hour, until the pumpkin is soft and caramelised. If it is taking on too much colour, reduce the heat by 15 degrees and continue cooking.
3. Meanwhile, add the poaching ingredients to a saucepan and bring to the boil. Once it reaches a rolling boil, remove from heat, cover with the lid and set aside for 45 minutes to an hour or until the chicken has cooked through. When ready to serve, slice the chicken as thinly or as thickly as you like.
4. For the rice, add the butter to a medium-sized saucepan over low to medium heat. Once melted add the onion and cook until fragrant and slightly translucent. Add the spices and rice and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is coated in the spiced butter. Add the chicken stock and simmer until the liquid is absorbed (about 15 to 20 minutes). Leave for 5 minutes then fluff with a fork.
5. Mix together the nuts and sesame seeds in a small bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper.
6. To serve, add rice to bowls. Arrange a wedge of pumpkin, some sliced chicken and broccolini.
7. Melt the butter in a frypan over medium heat, add the sumac and swirl a few times to incorporate, then drizzle over the chicken and greens. Sprinkle with the nut mix and serve warm.
Japanese poached chicken with beer, sake, miso and mirin. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Beer, miso and mirin poached chicken
The flavours of this are light and lovely while still delivering that creamy, salty, malty goodness. The charred baby leeks can be substituted with steamed pak choy, just add extra spring onion for that little kick.
500g chicken breast (about 2 fillets)
2 tbsp mirin
½ cup sake
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup beer (pale ale works well)
5cm knob of ginger, sliced
180g udon noodles
1 tbsp rice bran oil
6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 spring onion, sliced on the diagonal
4-6 baby leeks, washed and sliced lengthways
1. Add the poaching ingredients to a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until just cooked through. Remove chicken, reserving the poaching liquid, and allow to cool. Slice and set aside.
2. Bring the poaching liquid back to the boil. Add the udon noodles and cook for 4 minutes. Strain, reserving about half a cup of poaching liquid.
3. Place a frypan over medium heat. Add the oil, and once shimmering, fry the shiitake mushroom slices until golden. Remove the mushrooms from the pan. Add the baby leeks to the same pan, cut-side-down, and char slightly (about one minute) then pour over the remaining poaching liquid and cook for another minute.
4. Transfer the noodles to a large serving bowl. Top with the sliced chicken then scatter over the shiitake mushrooms and sliced spring onion. Add the leeks to the side (if using) then spoon over the reduced poaching liquid from the frypan. Serve warm.