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Archive for April 9th, 2011

Sometimes I think it is useful to add simple techniques to this site, especially if they are as versatile as this one for portions of pre-cooked chicken conveniently available for use in recipes or to eat cold.  Some weeks ago I needed to make a batch of Mexican Style Chicken & Pepper Salad large enough to feed 50 people.  It seemed obvious to poach the chicken first, along with onion and herbs for flavour, letting it cool before refrigerating until needed for the recipe.  All I needed was some instructions: I did not feel I wanted to trust guesswork with such a large and expensive quantity.

After some research I found a very clear method for poaching chicken at About.com along with another linked page giving additional information.  The method is for cooking boneless, skinless, chicken breast pieces, a healthy option that does not require oil or fat and relatively low in salt as the amount used is controlled by the cook.  There is no salt in the ingredients list for the recipe below which is simply flavoured by the onion and herbs.  The resulting chicken is full of flavour, soft and juicy.  The meat can then be used in any chicken recipe.  It can be used hot in chicken pies, soups, stews and curries, though if adapting a recipe for uncooked chicken the pre-cooked meat should be added towards the end of the cooking time, providing enough time is given for it to be thoroughly reheated.  It is just as good cold in sandwiches and salads (though unless necessary I would not choose to use meat from frozen batches as the taste is affected, albeit slightly).  Poached chicken can be substituted in any recipe using cold meat leftovers from a Sunday roast or a shop bought pre-cooked chicken.  Poaching liquids can be varied: usually just plain water, the advantage being there are no strong flavours to clash with those in the recipe in which it is used.  The water can also be flavoured, for example with herbs (as with my version below which uses onion and Herbes de Provence), pieces of root ginger or other spices.  Alternatively substitute chicken or vegetable broth, white wine, cider, tomato or other fruit juice, coconut milk or other liquid.   My sister in law uses a similar method pre-cooking belly pork pieces with root ginger to tenderise them, before using them in, Chinese Style Belly Pork & Greens/Broccoli/Bok Choy, a Chinese style stir fried pork dish and I am sure this method could be applied to other meats.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Basic Recipe: Poached Chicken Breasts
Serves 3-4 people

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
1 medium sized onion, peeled & roughly chopped
2 tsp herbes de Provence or dried mixed herbs
1 bay leaf (optional)
around 1½-2 cups/12-16 fl ozs or ¾pint/450ml water
(enough to cover the meat by at least half inch)

NB: It is important to:

  • use a pan in which the pieces can snugly sit in a single layer;
  • completely cover the meat with the poaching liquid;
  • follow the cooking temperatures and timings;
  • carefully observe the instructions for use and storage once the meat is cooked.

1.  Place chicken breasts in the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot just about large enough for them to fit in one layer.  (Say how much in one layer and size of pot – see info on Mex chick recipe).

2.  Cover the chicken with water or poaching liquid.  The meat should be covered by at least a half inch and up to one inch.  Add the onion and herbs – and bay leaf if using.  (Alternatively root ginger or other spices.)

3.  Bring the liquid to the boil and then lower the heat until it is barely simmering – just an occasional bubble rising to the surface.

4.  Partly cover the pot and simmer very gently for 10 minutes.

5.  Turn off the heat and leave the chicken to finish cooking for 10-15 minutes longer.

6.  Remove the chicken from the cooking liquid and set aside.  Remove and discard the bay leaf if used.   Reserve the cooking liquid for use as stock – either strained or unstrained as the base of a soup.

7.  The meat can either be eaten warm or allowed to cool for a short while before refrigerating for later use.  The pieces can be left whole, sliced, shredded or cut into chunks depending on what you want to use it for.   It is economical to cook a good quantity in one go, which can then be frozen in portions providing it is thoroughly defrosted before use. 

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