Food & Drink

Velvety chicken breasts poached in your oven

Chicken breasts with crunchy parsley-onion salad. Whether on the bone or off, chicken poached in a low oven yields silky, tender meat.
Chicken breasts with crunchy parsley-onion salad. Whether on the bone or off, chicken poached in a low oven yields silky, tender meat. New York Times

A slow, gentle poach in an oven isn’t as sexy as a fast cook over the jumping flames of a burner or grill. There’s no caramelization, no glistening black at the edges, no siren song of sizzling. But for perfectly silky chicken breasts, cooked without drying out or turning rubbery, a placid poaching is the most reliable way to go.

Most poached chicken recipes are done on the stovetop, turning the heat to its lowest setting, and letting the liquid in the pan gently firm up the fowl’s flesh.

This technique is different. It’s done in the oven, where the heat is even and lower than the wispiest burner flames. It does take around an hour to fully cook, but it’s a hands-off, stress-free hour: You can leave the kitchen should you desire, and not worry about whether your dinner will overcook.

It won’t. Instead, it will emerge from its warm bath juicy and flavorful.

This is especially true if you use chicken stock as the poaching liquid. Well-salted water will work, but it won’t give you the same depth of flavor. Be sure to save the poaching liquid. If you used stock, it will be double-strength and very rich. If you used water, you’ll have a light broth that’s good as a soup base.

While the oven’s on so low and slow, you can stick in something else that benefits from the relatively temperate 275-degree heat.

Garlic confit works beautifully. Covered in oil, the peeled cloves need about as much time as the chicken to soften into velvet. They turn golden and caramelized, and will keep, covered in their oil, for weeks in the fridge. But I like to use them right away to season slow-roasted tomatillos and jalapeños. Everything gets diced up with cilantro and lime juice into a salsa with texture of compote, and a bright, herbal taste.

Crisp, salty chicken skin is another easy win. The low heat renders the fat without burning, letting the skin become as crunchy as a potato chip. Here, I use the shards of skin to add texture to a fresh parsley and red onion salad. Roasted cherry tomatoes, condensed and honeyed, are served alongside. The cooking method may not be sexy, but your dinner – tender, rich and zesty – will be.

And to drink

The pungency of the tomatillos and the heat of the jalapeños argue for a couple of white wine options. The first is spicy food’s favorite white wine, a low-alcohol, moderately sweet German riesling, a combination that tends to moderate the peppery heat. Look for wines marked spätlese, kabinett or feinherb. If you prefer a dry wine, a good, bright sauvignon blanc will echo some of the herbal flavors. So would an Austrian grüner veltliner. Other options? Perhaps a sparkling wine would appeal, like a cava from the Penedès region of Spain. Or you could try a pétillant naturel, especially a bottle with a bit of residual sugar, which would be delicious.

Poached Chicken Breasts With Parsley-Onion Salad

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 1 hour 45 minutes

1 quart chicken stock, plus more as needed (or use salted water)

2 1/2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (3 to 4 split breasts)

1 bay leaf

4 garlic cloves

2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup pitted green olives, sliced

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, plus more as needed

1 rosemary sprig

1 lemon

1 cup chopped parsley leaves

Pinch of red-pepper flakes

1/2 small red onion, sliced

Place racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven, and heat oven to 275 degrees. In the microwave or in a small pot on the stove, heat chicken stock until it comes to a simmer.

Pull skin off chicken, keeping the skin in large pieces, and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet.

Place chicken breasts in a small baking dish, cover with hot chicken stock and add bay leaf.

Thinly slice 3 of the garlic cloves. In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, toss together garlic slices, tomatoes, olives, 3 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Top with the rosemary sprig.

Place pan with chicken skin on top rack and chicken and tomatoes on bottom rack. Toss the tomatoes occasionally. Bake everything until chicken skin is golden, the chicken breast is cooked through (a thermometer inserted in the center should read 155 degrees), and tomatoes are starting to shrivel. This will take 60 to 65 minutes for chicken skin and tomatoes; 70 to 80 minutes for the chicken. Transfer chicken skin to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt to taste, reserving the rendered chicken fat. Transfer chicken breasts to a cutting board to rest for 5 minutes before slicing meat off the bones. (Save stock for another use; it can be frozen for up to 3 months.)

Grate 1 2 teaspoon zest from the lemon, then cut lemon into wedges. Finely grate remaining garlic clove into a medium bowl. Add a squeeze of lemon juice from one of the wedges, and a pinch of salt. Pour some of the reserved chicken fat over garlic, then toss with parsley, lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and red-pepper flakes. Break up chicken skin into bite-sized pieces and toss into parsley mixture along with the red onion. Serve immediately with the tomato-olive mixture and chicken, drizzling with olive oil, if you like.

Poached Chicken Breasts With Tomatillos and Jalapeños

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 2 hours

1 quart chicken stock, plus more as needed (or use salted water)

1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (3 medium breasts)

1 1/2 pounds tomatillos, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

2 to 3 jalapeños, thinly sliced

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3/4cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

3 scallions, thinly sliced

Finely grated zest of 1/2 lime

1 avocado, sliced

Fresh lime juice, to taste

Place racks in the top and bottom third of the oven and heat to 275 degrees. In the microwave or in a small pot on the stove, heat chicken stock until it comes to a simmer.

Place chicken in a small baking dish and cover with hot chicken stock.

On a rimmed baking sheet, toss together tomatillos, jalapeños, 2 tablespoons oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and cumin seeds. Spread into a single layer on the sheet, then nudge the tomatillos aside to make room in 1 corner for a small ramekin. Fill ramekin with garlic and remaining 4 tablespoons oil or more as needed to cover the garlic.

Place chicken on top oven rack until chicken is cooked through (a thermometer inserted in the center should read 155 degrees), 55 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes. At the same time, bake tomatillos on bottom rack, tossing occasionally, until they are tender, and garlic is light golden, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. If chicken is ready before the tomatillos, remove it from the oven and leave it in the pan covered in stock to keep it warm until everything is done.

Use a slotted spoon to remove garlic from oil and coarsely chop. Remove chicken from stock (save stock for another use; it can be frozen for up to 3 months), and slice the meat.

To assemble, toss together tomatillos, chopped garlic, cilantro, scallions, lime zest and salt to taste. Drizzle fresh lime juice and garlic oil all over the chicken and avocado if you like, and season with salt. Serve with the tomatillo salsa.

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