Boneless skinless chicken breasts are versatile, high-protein, low-fat, and convenient to use, but they can quickly turn dry and tasteless if overcooked. This recipe, slightly adapted from one in “The Walks of Life,” relies on a simple poaching method that ensures tender, juicy, aromatic results. Once cooled, the chicken is shredded and dressed in a light soy-based dressing loaded with garlic and ginger (chilies if you like heat), then tossed with red onion slices, cilantro leaves, and toasted sesame seeds — a delightful, low-fuss way to ring in the Chinese New Year (January 22) or to whip up for a healthy entree any day or night. Serves 4. RECIPE HERE. – Susan Puckett
For the chicken:
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (brought to room temperature 1-2 hours before cooking)
- 6 cups water
- 3 thin slices of ginger
- 1 scallion, halved crosswise
For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions (white parts only)
- 1 heaping tablespoon garlic (3-4 cloves)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 or 2 fresh Thai bird’s-eye chilies or a pinch of dried chile flakes (optional)
- 3 tablespoons neutral oil
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar (or white rice vinegar or rice wine vinegar)
- 1 ½ teaspoons oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
- ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- ½ cup thinly sliced red onion
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- Fine sea salt to taste
- Prepare the chicken: In a medium pot, combine the water, ginger, and halved scallion and bring it to a boil.
- Completely submerge the chicken into the water and allow it to return to a boil. Then immediately reduce the heat to its lowest setting, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and allow it to continue to steep in the hot liquid, untouched, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl and set it beside the sink.
- Check the chicken for doneness by piercing the thickest part of the meat with a sharp skewer to see if the juices run clear. If not, leave it in the water for 5 more minutes, then check again.
- Transfer the chicken to the ice bath for about 5 minutes or until cool enough to handle, then shred the meat and transfer it to a serving plate. (Reserve the flavorful broth, if desired, for cooking jasmine rice or other uses.)
- Make the sauce: In a medium heatproof bowl, combine the scallions, garlic, ginger, and chilies (if using). Mix in the soy sauce, vinegar, oyster sauce, sesame oil, ground Sichuan peppercorns, and sugar. Heat the neutral oil in a wok or small saucepan until shimmering, and carefully pour the aromatics into the bowl.
- To serve: Toss the chicken in the sauce, along with the onion, cilantro, and sesame seeds. Season to taste with salt. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.