Most of us, well at least for me in the past, usually pass on the breast part when having chicken for dinner. This white cut of meat, which I find too lean, could end up really dry and chewy. The thing is, they don’t have to be all that less juicy. Cooking them properly, with the right method, and to a specific internal temperature should make them equally appealing as the other cuts such as wings and thighs.
Let’s start cooking. Cut your chicken into quarters. Bigger cuts such as what we’ll be making here poach much better, keeping them more moist. Reserve those small bite sized cuts for stir-fries or when deep-frying them with a breading of some sort.
Season the cuts of chicken with salt and pepper. I’ve used ground white pepper to keep the cream sauce which we’ll be finishing the dish with, free from specks of black pepper if I’ve chosen otherwise. Moreover, white pepper is noticeably less pungent than its black counterpart.
Chop the shallots as fine as you possibly can. This way we get the most flavor out of them in the relatively short poaching time. Also, doing a good job at mincing them would eliminate the need to strain the poaching liquid later as we make the cream sauce. A slight coating of butter at the bottom of the pot will ensure that the chicken pieces won’t stick. The non-stick finish of most slow cooker vessels though may be enough for you to do away with this step.
Lucky for me, I always have new slow cookers on hand and don’t need to worry about non-stick surfaces being old/used. Today, I used one of my favorite Hamilton Beach slow cookers. They make high quality products and they are generally cheaper than other brands!
Arrange the chicken pieces on top of the shallots. Space them nicely if possible. Too much contact between these pieces may cause them to stick together, making it difficult to handle them without tearing off the skins.
Adding in sprigs of fresh tarragon at this point would infuse the wonderful aroma of this herb into the chicken, making it blend perfectly with the tarragon cream sauce we’ll be making in the end. Tarragon goes perfectly with any meat that has subtle flavor. Fresh, very aromatic, but not overpowering.
You may add any flavoring component of your choice at this point to make the recipe your own. Add basil for Poached Chicken in Basil Cream Sauce, prepared horseradish for Poached Chicken in Horseradish Cream Sauce, pesto for Poached Chicken in Pesto Cream Sauce, you get the point. Let your imagination inspire you. Go with preserved fruit, mushrooms, wine, or any ingredient sitting in your pantry. Using fish or any seafood as your main component would also be recommended.
Next, add in the wine. This will add a depth of sweetness and tang that’ll ideally pair with the cream. Any wine will do. Choose a white variety to keep the cream sauce white of course.
Add just enough chicken stock to come up to about half the level of the pieces of chicken. Don’t get them fully submerged. Doing so will get them to stew instead of poach, which will make them less moist in the end.
When the chicken is fully cooked, strain off the cooking liquid into a small stockpot to get it to reduce, further concentrating the flavors. A good way to check if the chicken is cooked enough is to make a small incision at the joint where the thigh meets the drumstick. A very clear liquid must leech out. Any trace of blood will mean that you’ll have to cook the chicken for more time.
Allow the poaching liquid to reduce to about a quarter of a cup before adding in the cream. Adding the cream too early will yield a thin consistency to the sauce which you may need to reduce again, this time risking your cream to split. Do this over very low heat.
Once the sauce has thickened a bit, turn off the heat, add in chopped tarragon leaves, and whisk in cold butter nuggets. Whisking in butter will thicken the cream sauce a bit more and give it a good sheen. This process of refining a sauce with butter is common to French cuisine and is termed monter.