For our first post, I thought I’d write about something we loved to eat growing up and that I now make all the time: poached chicken.

My parents learned the key to making poached chicken from some of their Chinese restaurant friends who frequently made white-cut chicken (you know, the kind you see hanging in meat shops in Chinatown, served with a ginger-scallion sauce). The most important step, they realized, is to plunge the poached chicken into an ice-water bath immediately after cooking. This stops the cooking and makes the meat firm and the skin crisp. Otherwise, everything can end up a bit mushy.

To this my mom added her method of slowly poaching the chicken in hot water with the heat off. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this, but my family actually likes our chicken with just the faintest hint of pink, and turning the heat off allows the chicken to cook very gently, coming barely to the point of doneness before being shocked in ice water. And when I eat any kind of leftover poached chicken, I tend to just eat it cold, because reheating it takes away all the lovely moistness that makes poached chicken for me. My favorite part of all is the tenderloin, the inner breast meat, probably the juiciest part of the whole bird.

So here’s my mom’s method for poaching chicken. If you prefer, you can add some aromatics or seasonings to the water, like ginger, garlic, and scallions (for an Asian flavor), or onions, garlic, carrots, and celery (for a more American / Western flavor). But I actually don’t like to put anything into the water in order to keep the flavor neutral. That way I can use the chicken and the broth to make any variety of dishes the rest of the week, which is how long this recipe feeds my husband and me.

Poached Chicken
Serves 4-6 people

1 whole chicken, about 4 lbs
salt, if desired

1. Clean and trim off the excess fat of one chicken.

2. Fill a large pot with just enough water to cover the chicken. Add some salt if desired. Bring the water to a boil, then place the chicken into the pot breast side up, making sure the entire chicken is fully submerged in the water. (You can scoop some water out at this point if there is too much, in order to get a more concentrated stock.)

3. Leave the pot on high heat to let the water come back up to a boil. When this happens, carefully turn the chicken over so that the breast side is down. Cover the pot. Turn off the heat, and let the chicken steep for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Be careful not to overcook it.

4. About 5 minutes before the chicken is done, prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with cold water and a trayful of ice cubes.

5. When the chicken is ready, carefully lift it out of the pot with tongs or a slotted spoon. If you’re going to serve the chicken Chinese style (chopped into large pieces, bones still in), be careful not to break the skin. Plunge the entire chicken into the ice bath and let it cool, turning over once to make sure both sides get submerged.

From this point, you can do anything with the chicken: Make white-cut chicken with ginger-scallion sauce or Hainan chicken and rice. Use the meat for enchiladas, quesadillas, salads, sandwiches, and noodle soups. Save the broth for making soups and sauces (I like to freeze some of it for another time). I’ve heard that you can even dry the whole chicken off and stick it under high heat in the oven for some super-moist roast chicken, which I’d like to try some day.

But what I find myself doing, time after time, even with all the other possibilities out there, is make my mom’s easy salt-baked chicken. Stay tuned!