The Flavorful Reason You Should Boil Chicken In Something Other Than Water

Chicken is a simple quick-cooking protein that can be on the dinner table in minutes. As a bonus, there are plenty of different ways to cook the perfect chicken meal. If you're boiling it to add to a salad or sandwich, you don't have to skimp on taste. Various ingredients can impart flavor with this basic cooking method.

For starters, you shouldn't be using plain water. At the very least you should throw some salt in there to season — about 3 teaspoons in 4 cups of cold water per pound of chicken is recommended. If you'd like to experiment further, you can amp up the flavor by adding beer or wine to the water. A dry white wine will lend subtle aromas to the chicken, while a lager or ale will give it malty flavors that would make a nice pairing with tacos.

Stick to using about ½ a cup of wine or beer for every cup of water, or for a stronger flavor, use a one-to-one ratio. Pour your liquid of choice into a pot, then add as much cold water as needed to cover the chicken. Meanwhile, for a tom kha gai-inspired Thai dish, skip the water and poach boneless, skinless chicken breasts in coconut milk. You can also try using 1 cup of water and ½ a cup of sake with a few tablespoons of mirin for a delicately flavored poaching liquid.

Chicken is fairly bland, so it benefits from additional flavor

Water alone won't add flavor to what is already a bland meat — it's a big flavor mistake when boiling chicken. Many of us buy our poultry at the local grocery store, which mostly comes from industrial chicken farms. The flavor of the meat depends on what the animal ate before it became dinner, and in a lot of cases, chickens aren't eating anything interesting. As a result, chicken tends to taste very mild, which is why enhancing your poaching liquid will set you off on the right foot.

Once you've decided on the liquid, focus on aromatics which can give your chicken a much-needed flavor boost. Don't be afraid to add ingredients like herbaceous bay leaves or rosemary, piquant chiles and peppercorns, warming ginger, garlic, and star anise, or fruity lemongrass and Thai basil. Poaching is a versatile cooking method, so go wild experimenting to create the results that best fit your dish.

When you're ready to poach, there's the right way to boil chicken and the wrong way. We recommend starting it in cold water because dropping chicken directly into boiling water will cause the meat to become tough. Making this mistake will lead to a dry, stringy texture instead of plump and moist meat. And don't let the pan come to a rolling boil for longer than necessary or you'll risk overcooking the chicken.