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How to Poach a Chicken

 How long do I boil chicken until it is done?

 That's exactly right — boil it until it's done. And not a moment longer!

Poaching chickens (definitely not boiling them) seems to have fallen completely out of favor. Compared to roasting, poaching is more work and mess, but it can produce a delicious chicken.

The primary challenge involved in poaching a chicken is that you don't want the white meat near the surface to overcook and dry out while the rest of the chicken cooks through. It used to be a common practice in Europe to wrap a chicken in a layer of pork fat before poaching, but those days appear to be gone forever (a pig's bladder was another option).

A method still in use in a few daring households is to loosen the skin of the bird and rub the breast meat under the skin with a layer of butter, then tie a piece of parchment paper around the bird, covering the breast and legs entirely. Then the bird is lowered into the hot stock and poached at a temperature ranging from 190°F to 205°F (88°C to 95°C). Did you notice the word "stock" in the last sentence? You use chicken stock for your poaching liquid, as plain water or salted water will leach so much of the flavor from the chicken.

A 4-1/2-lb chicken will be thoroughly cooked after about 1-1/4 hours. But, using your trusty instant-read thermometer, you will check to see that the interior breast meat has reached a temperature of about 160°F (71°C) and the middle of the thigh is about 170°F (77°C).

Now, there is another, slightly less fussy method, although it involves a challenge, too. Madeleine Kamman, author of The New Making of a Cook, seals the chicken in an oven roasting bag, allowing her to dispense with the butter, parchment paper, and stock. (The challenge is that oven roasting bags also seem to have fallen out of favor and can be a little hard to find.) Also unless you squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag, it will inflate in the simmering stock and cause the chicken to bob to the surface, cooking unevenly. Place a lid or plate that is slightly smaller than your stock pot on top of the chicken to keep it submerged.

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