Cantonese-Style Poached Chicken Recipe

collage of a whole chicken, deboned and chopped chicken, and serving suggestion
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Cantonese-Style Poached Chicken is tender in texture and so juicy and delicious. The leftover chicken is great in other recipes such as fried rice and I use the poaching liquid to make chicken broth for soups or rice porridge (jook/congee). This recipe is free of top 9 allergens and very shareable since the ingredients are so simple.

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Stovetop Poached Chicken That’s Tender and Delicious

Cantonese-style poached chicken, also known as “bok cheet gay” is so tender because it’s cooked in barely simmering water until the chicken is done. If all of this seems familiar, you might remember my recipe for “Bok Cheet Gai” made in a slow cooker.

Cantonese poached chicken seems simple, cook a chicken in hot water, right? Actually it takes a little bit of finesse to poach a chicken perfectly so that it’s juicy and tender. When I was a child, our “white cut chicken” was sometimes a little pink! The meat would be cooked through but the insides of the bones was still a little bit pink.

I encourage you to follow best food safety practices and still prepare this chicken in a simple and traditional way. A digital meat thermometer will help you objectively know when the chicken reaches a safe temperature of 165°F.

collage of a whole cooked chicken, half of it's deboned and served with a ginger and scallion oil sauce, half is chopped, and served in a bowl with broth, noodles, and sauteed veggies
Top left: whole cooked chicken. To show possible ways to serve it, half of the chicken is deboned and served with a drizzle of ginger and scallion oil sauce (top right), and the other half chopped into large pieces with the bone (bottom left). Bottom right: one serving suggestion, on this day we ate the poached chicken with broth, noodles, and sauteed iceberg lettuce.

Which Type of Whole Chicken to Poach?

I usually buy Trader Joe’s Whole Young Chicken. They’re just the right size for our family, between 4.5 to 5 pounds. Where ever you happen to shop, I recommend selecting a chicken approximately 5 pounds the first time you make it.

If you live near a Chinese or Asian supermarket, you might see some small chickens labeled brown chicken. Those are delicious free-range chickens but require a slightly modified recipe, which I will share separately. Tell me in the comments if you’ve ever seen this type of chicken in your Chinese or Asian supermarkets and wondered how to cook them.

How to Prepare the Chicken for Poaching

The most important preparation step is to note the chicken’s weight. Either write it down or take a photo of the label. You will need the exact weight to determine the poaching time later.

The biggest question about prepping the chicken for poaching is whether to wash the chicken or not. Washing the chicken can spread harmful bacteria. But if you intend to repurpose the poaching water for making broth, you will want the broth to be clear without impurities. You can use a fine mesh oil skimmer (or even a mesh tea strainer) to skim the foam and impurities, and/or carefully clean the chicken first

Read the CDC’s article about how to prevent cross-contamination and sanitize your work area afterwards. When I was writing and editing my cookbook, Chinese Instant Pot Cookbook, I came up with a compromise to use salt to scrub the chicken and then use paper towels to blot the excess salt, blood, and other impurities. Alternatively, I also like Chef Terri Dien’s idea to submerge the salt-rubbed chicken into a large bowl of cold water and then drain to remove the excess salt, debris, and blood.

Finetuning How Long to Poach the Chicken

My dad taught me this recipe over 40 years ago. He always bought the same kind of chicken from San Francisco’s Chinatown and the exact poaching times were very consistent. Poach on low for 25 minutes, flip it over, turn off the heat and poach for 20 more minutes. I have had to adjust the recipe over the years because when I follow Dad’s recipe, the chicken is a bit undercooked most likely because the chickens I buy are bigger than what was available 40+ years ago.

Timing depends on the size of the chicken

I buy a young chicken which usually weigh between 4.5 to 5.5 pounds and poach the chicken for 10-11 minutes per pound (approximately 50-55 minutes for most chicken). In the table below, you can see that 50 minutes will be more than well done for a smaller 4.5 pound chicken and 55 minutes might be undercooked for a 5.5 pound chicken. This is why it’s important to note the weight of your chicken.

Poach breast-side up with heat-on first

It’s easy to overcook the breast and undercook the dark meat. We poach breast side up on low heat to ensure that the poaching liquid maintains a simmer to cook the dark meat. Flip the chicken breast side down and turn off the heat so that the chicken breast does not overcook.

Check early, with exceptions

I personally don’t like overcooked chicken so I will start checking with a digital meat thermometer at the minimum time range and poach a little longer as needed. If the chicken is very large (over 6 pounds) or very cold (you prepped in advance and didn’t take it out of your refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking), then allow more cooking time (10.5 to 11 minutes/pound).

Food safe internal temperature: 165°F

If the temperature is around 155°F you may need to poach the chicken for a few more minutes. The USDA recommends an internal temperature of 165°F at the thickest part of the thigh to be safe. Keep your pot of poaching liquid covered and warm on the stove in case you want to return the chicken to the pot or in case you want to make chicken broth after dinner.

Approximate Poaching Times

Chicken (lb)minimum time
@ 10 min/lb
average time
@ 10.5 min/lb
@ 11 min/lb
4.5454750
4.6464851
4.7474952
4.8485053
4.9495154
5.0505355
5.1515456
5.2525557
5.3535658
5.4545759
5.5555860
Use this table as a guide to approximate the total poaching time.

Start checking the chicken’s internal temperature at when your total cooking time is at either the minimum cooking time or average cooking time. For example, if you are cooking a 5.1 pound chicken, check the internal temperature after a total of 51 minutes poaching. Cooking for 11 minutes/pound is reasonable when extra time is needed for a very cold or a very large chicken. Note that the times are rounded to the nearest whole number.

How to Poach the Chicken

This poached chicken recipe is simple but since my dad demonstrated how to cook it for me, I decided that I needed to create a video for a little bit of show and tell. Please watch, it will be a lot easier to dunk or flip it over in a pot of hot water with a little demonstration.

How to Serve the Poached Chicken

Usually a Cantonese-style poached chicken is cooked, chilled, and then chopped into smaller pieces and served at room temperature with the ginger-scallion dipping sauce. I described how to chop the chicken in detail in my slow cooker version of this recipe. It’s important to allow enough time for the chicken to cool down before you try to chop it. Be careful of bone shards when eating.

What works better for my family is to serve the chicken while it’s still hot or warm (super yum). But it’s very messy to try and cut a hot chicken through the bones. Instead, I carve the chicken in a platter to catch all the juices for broth later and served the chicken without the bones and drizzle with some ginger and scallion dipping sauce.

Allergy Mom Tip to Save Time and Money

After dinner I wear food prep gloves while separating the cooked chicken meat for leftovers and the carcass for soup. I add the chicken juices from the platter and the carcass in the poaching liquid with other soup bones from my freezer for about an hour and then I have a nice broth for soups or congee.

Life with food allergies is expensive. This recipe saves me time and money. Basically for the cost of two chicken breasts (about $10-12), we also enjoy all of the dark meat and a pot of chicken broth for free. This recipe makes a delicious main dish for my family, cooked chicken leftovers that go with anything, and a healthy broth to make soups.

collage of a whole chicken, deboned and chopped chicken, and serving suggestion
5 from 7 votes
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Cantonese-Style Poached Chicken Recipe

Cantonese-Style Poached Chicken is tender in texture and so juicy and delicious. The leftover chicken is great in other recipes such as fried rice and I use the poaching liquid to make chicken broth for soups or rice porridge (jook/congee). This recipe is free of top 9 allergens and very shareable since the ingredients are so simple.

Course Main Entree
Cuisine Chinese
Keyword poached chicken, poached whole chicken
Prep Time 35 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings 6
Author Sharon @ Nut Free Wok

Ingredients

  • 1 5 pound whole young tender chicken
  • 1 1-inch piece ginger peeled and sliced
  • 2 stalks scallions tear in half
  • 1 teaspoon salt (for the pot) plus more for cleaning the chicken
  • 1 recipe ginger and scallion dipping sauce optional, serve on the side

Instructions

  1. Approximately 30 minutes before you want to begin cooking, note the weight of the chicken (take a photo or write it down). Prepare the chicken by removing any excess fat near the cavity, remove any chicken parts from inside the chicken (I add the gizzard, heart, and neck to the pot, and discard or reserve the liver for other uses), and remove any stray feathers.
  2. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of salt all over the chicken skin and inside the cavity and rub the chicken to remove any debris. Add more salt as needed. Use paper towels to remove any excess salt, feathers, etc.. OR Fill a large bowl with cold water in your sink. Gently lower the chicken into the bowl to soak for a few minutes and then drain.

  3. Fill an 8-quart stock pot approximately 2/3 full with water and bring to boil on high heat. Add the ginger slices and scallions. If you have a chicken neck or any internal organs you wish to cook, add them now. When the water comes to a boil, add 1 teaspoon salt.

  4. Hold the chicken firmly by the wing tips and dunk the chicken up and down in the pot of hot water three times. Note whether there's enough water in the pot to cover the chicken without overflowing the pot. Set aside the chicken and return the water in the pot to boil. Add 1-2 cups of water as needed.

  5. When the pot returns to a boil, hold the chicken firmly by the wingtips and place the chicken into the pot breast-side up. Cook on medium heat with the lid off for 5 minutes. When the water begins to simmer, cover the pot with a lid, lower the temperature to low. Set one timer for 25 minutes to flip the chicken over at the halfway point. Set a second timer for 10 minutes per pound of chicken, which is 50 minutes for a 5 pound chicken.

  6. Flip the chicken over by inserting a wooden spoon into the cavity and lift the chicken tail up and over, cover the pot, turn off the heat and poach for the remaining time, approximately 25 minutes for a 5.0 pound chicken. During this time be sure to have clean utensils ready to take the chicken out of the pot and a clean serving platter, and make a ginger dipping sauce if desired.

  7. Use a digital meat thermometer to check the internal temperature at the inner thigh (without touching the bone). The chicken is ready when the internal temperatue is 165°F otherwise turn the heat on low and poach for 5 more minutes. Use two large slotted or perforated serving utensils to carefully transfer the chicken out of the pot and onto a large serving platter.

  8. Allow the chicken to rest for a 5-10 minutes so that it's safe to handle. To serve warm, carve the chicken at the table and avoid splatters by not cutting through the bone. Drizzle green onion and ginger sauce and/or serve on the side.

Recipe Notes

Optional: If desired, use the leftover chicken or chicken carcass to make chicken broth with the poaching liquid for soups. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 hours. Strain and store the broth. 

Recipe for ginger and scallion sauce: https://nutfreewok.com/ginger-and-scallion-sauce/

Related Recipes for Lunar New Year!

A poached whole chicken (with it’s head and feet) represents unity and togetherness and perfect for the lunar new year. If you are looking for additional recipes to make for Lunar New Year celebrations, I have a collection of culturally appropriate recipes which you may consider.

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About Sharon Wong 265 Articles
Welcome to Nut Free Wok, a blog about Allergy Aware Asian Fare. I hope that you will find my food allergy mom experiences helpful and enjoyable to read as I write about recipes, cooking techniques, Asian ingredients, and food allergy related awareness and advocacy issues. My professional experiences include education, teaching, and a little bit of science and computers. Thank you for visiting! ~Sharon Wong, M.Ed.

14 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This article was so helpful! That table will definitely come in handy, I am saving this for later. Thank you so much for sharing 😉

  2. 5 stars
    The chicken comes out so tender and flavorful, and the ginger and green onion sauce is the perfect complement. It’s a simple dish that’s packed with deliciousness.

  3. 5 stars
    I love cantonese chicken and had no idea it was so easy! The ginger and scallion sauce looks really tasty – cant wait to make it!

  4. 5 stars
    I love Cantonese cuisine! I really would love to go someday and learn about its gastronomy. For now, I’m glad I found your blog to learn about it from afar.

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