Perfect Shredded Chicken for Burritos Anyone Can Make

How many times have you eaten at a high end Mexican restaurant and wondered to yourself, "How do they get this chicken so tender and delicious?  Must take a lot of work!"?  Well, it's not as complicated as you might think, and it can even be done in an extremely healthy manner.  The secret:  poaching the chicken in water.  This method couldn't be easier, provided you start with the right ingredients and have the proper utensils (don't worry- you won't need much!).  Let's get started.

Step 1: Like the Swedish Chef might say, "Put the chicky in the pot!"

Ingredients: boneless, skinless chicken breasts; water

Like the Swedish Chef might say, "Put the chicky in the pot!"
Credit: My photo

Start with plenty of water in a pot big enough to fully submerge the boneless, skinless chicken breasts you've bought.  

The first part is really easy:  just bring a pot of water to a boil. It doesn't need to be a rolling boil, but the water does need to be bubbling just a little bit.  You'll probably want to set the water on medium high or high during this part.  Now drop in the boneless, skinless chicken breasts (if you're making burritos for 2 people, one medium sized breast- about 6 ounces- will do, but you may as well make at least twice that much chicken).

Once the water returns to a boil, turn the stove temperature on the burner in question down to medium low.  Stovetop temperatures vary, so what you're looking for here is almost boiling.  That's really all poaching is, except sometimes people will season the broth with something acidic.  For your chicken, though, you just need water. 

Step 2: just put the colander in the sink...

My colander
Credit: my photo

I prefer a simple colander with a handle, like this one.  I just put the colander at the bottom of the sink, then pour the chicken in there, after it has cooked for about an hour.

...pour in the chicken...

Let the chicken cook for a good hour.  Seriously, just set it and forget it.  You can get some other housework done in the meantime- just make sure there's more than 2 inches of water above the chicken breasts in the pot, and you should be good to go for the next hour (although it never hurts to check up on it).  

When the chicken is done cooking, just pour it into the colander, which is in the sink (see the photo above), and let the water drain.  Don't touch the chicken right away, as it will be upwards of 200 degrees or so!

...and let the chicken drain for a minute, and cool down for a while

Or rinse it with cold water to expedite things

Chicken in the colander
Credit: Mine

If you don't have a long time to wait, you can run cold water over the chicken right away to cool it off.  Either way, you'll want to rinse the cooked breasts to remove the brothy residue - that's just chicken and water, but you'll want to make sure it goes down the drain and not into your burrito.

Now for the best part: shred the chicken by hand

Chicken - shred by handCredit: Self

Just squeeze the chicken by hand, tearing it apart and squeezing the excess water from it.  This part is essentially stress relief, and it's the most effective way I've found (in my decade and a half in restaurants, and in the quarter of a century I've been cooking for myself) to shred the bird. 

This stunningly simple method results in amazing, moist, delicious protein that you can now mix with salsa (if you're lazy) or a custom sauce you make (if you're ambitious) to use for filling for burritos or tacos!Final productCredit: SelfPro tip:  make a little more than you'll need for your burrito project, and try mixing the poached, shredded chicken in with spaghetti sauce, as baked potato topping with cheese and bacon, or just about anything else you can come up with.  You have a blank slate!