Poached Chicken

This is the best way to cook chicken to serve cold in a salad, although it also makes a very nice hot dish. The broth produced is excellent, and can be used either for soup, or as the basis for a sauce to serve with the chicken, or to make a clear jelly to garnish the cold fowl with.


  • 4–5 lb / 1.80–2.30 kg chicken
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 leek, trimmed and sliced
  • parsley stalks
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • a few sprigs of tarragon


Clean the chicken, and, instead of trussing it, insert four metal skewers into it, making sure they go through the thickest, densest parts of the chicken, particularly the thighs. The skewers will help conduct the heat right through the chicken. Place the bird in a large saucepan, and cover with water. Add the rest of the ingredients, and bring slowly to the boil. Lower the heat and, if you intend to serve the chicken hot, allow it to simmer very, very gently for 10 minutes per 1 lb / 455 g, and serve with boiled or steamed rice. If you intend to serve it cold, simmer it very, very gently for only 20 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat, and let the chicken go cold in the stock. The surface of the water should scarcely move, let alone bubble, while the chicken is cooking.


Use different vegetables to vary the dish. Potatoes or barley and leeks, plus prunes and a few bay leaves, cooked with the chicken, will produce a version of cock-a-leekie. For more of an Italian flavour, you might cook courgettes, beans and a quartered cabbage with the chicken.

One of my favourite versions of this dish comes from Hainan, the large tropical island off the south China coast. The chicken is cooked simply in water, and allowed to cool. The broth is served piping hot with fried onion, slices of fresh ginger and spring onions floating in it, and a bowl of steaming rice accompanies the chicken, which has been chopped into small pieces of a size to be picked up with chopsticks. It is served with a remarkable condiment – fresh ginger, pounded with salt. You eat a mouthful of rice, then the cool, velvety, tender chicken, dipped in the ginger salt, followed by a spoonful of hot broth. It is a stunning combination of tastes, textures and temperatures.