Cold Olive Oil Poached Chicken, Potato and Watercress Salad with Buttermilk-Tarragon Dressing

| August 19, 2011 | 8 Comments

When confronted with a challenge of creating a “cold entree” for a group of food bloggers from around the world who use the #letslunch hashtag on Twitter, I immediately conjured up an image of an ivory-colored poached chicken breast. Once the star was born, everything else fell into place.

My goal of poaching in olive oil led me on an around-the-clock sous-vide adventure. Although I learned a great deal, reflecting back on this experience, I would have chosen to poach them on the stovetop with enough olive oil to cover, then filter and save the oil for another task.

I had marinated the chicken in a Ziploc bag with several tablespoons of olive oil, a couple of cloves of chopped garlic and a grinding of white pepper. I extracted as much air from the bag as I could with hand pressure and then closed it. I then placed the bag in a Pyrex baking dish and covered it with water from our instant-hot-water tap, placed it into a pre-heated oven set at 170 °F, thinking that in a couple of hours my chicken breasts would have reached that safe temperature for fully cooked fowl.

Wrong! After three hours in this oven the water surrounding the bag had settled in at a temperature of only 120 °F.

And so began the all-night babysitting with my stubborn but determined method.

I’ll cut to the finish and report that at 7:00AM the next day we were up to about 155 °F with the water bath. Grrrrrrr!

Determined to finish these babies at a safe temperature, I removed them from their olive oil and garlic womb and finished poaching them on the stovetop in simmering water until my thermometer read 170 °F.  O, blessed moment!

Cold Olive Oil Poached Chicken, Potato and Watercress Salad with Buttermilk-Tarragon Dressing

Cold Olive Oil Poached Chicken, Watercress and Potato Salad with Buttermilk-Tarragon Dressing


For the Chicken:

  1. 1 whole chicken breast, two halves separated and trimmed of all skin and fat
  2. 3 tablespoons (45 ml.) extra virgin olive oil
  3. 1 clove of garlic crushed
  4. A generous grind of white pepper
  5. ¾ teaspoon (3.75 ml.) salt


  • Place chicken breasts in a resealable plastic bag.
  • Mix together ingredients 2-5.
  • Pour the oil, garlic, pepper and salt over the chicken.
  • Seal the bag, removing as much air as possible.
  • Refrigerate several hours, preferably overnight.

At this point, unless you are comfortable with the sous-vide method of cooking, I suggest proceeding thusly with either method below.


  • Place the bag with the chicken in a pan of water and bring to a simmer, making sure the bag stays completely submerged.
  • Simmer until the chicken reaches 165 °F.

Obviously, you’ll have to pierce the bag or remove the chicken to test.


  • After marinating, remove the chicken from the bag and poach in simmering water until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 165 -170 °F.
  • Plunge chicken into an ice bath.
  • Place in a fresh resealable bag and chill for several hours.

For the Dressing:
Inspired by and modified from a similar recipe in Gourmet

  1. ¾ cup (180 ml.) mayonnaise
  2. ½ cup (120 ml.) buttermilk, well shaken
  3. 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) champagne vinegar
  4. ¼ cup (60 ml.) chopped Italian parsley
  5. ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml.) salt or to taste
  6. ¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml.) freshly ground pepper
  7. 3 scallions chopped, both white and green parts
  8. ¼ cup (60 ml.) chopped fresh tarragon


  • Process together the mayonnaise, buttermilk, vinegar, parsley, white and pale-green parts of scallion, salt and pepper in a food processor until parsley and scallion are finely chopped.
  • Remove to a bowl and stir in the remaining dark-green scallion tops and tarragon.

Salad Ingredients:

  1. 1 or 2 bunches of fresh watercress, rinsed and dried in a salad spinner
  2. A large handful of fingerling potatoes, steamed until cooked and chilled
  3. A large handful of grape tomatoes
  4. 1 fresh ear of corn, steamed and kernels removed
  5. 1 hard-boiled egg, grated fine


My presentation started out looking very much like a Cobb salad but ended up with a “Jackson Pollock” finish. I trust that Robert Howard Cobb and Mr. Pollock would nonetheless enjoy the result.

  • Arrange the watercress on a serving plate or platter.
  • Slice the chilled chicken and place on the platter.
  • Arrange the potatoes and tomatoes around the chicken as you please.
  • Generously drizzle the dressing over the chicken, potatoes and tomatoes.
  • Sprinkle the corn kernels and grated egg over all like confetti.

Serve and enjoy!

Bon appétit,

— Charles


Category: Salad

About the Author (Author Profile)

Music, food and photography are at the center of Charles’ life. He performed with the Dallas Symphony, Dallas Opera and was assistant principal bassoonist with the Fort Worth Symphony for more than 20 years. When Charles and Victor moved to Baltimore, Charles created Lone Star Personal Chef and Catering Service and taught cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma. Now in Salem, Charles is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Mountain West Real Estate, taught cooking classes for children at the A.C. Gilbert Discovery Village, and owns and operates Charles Price Photography. Charles and Vic enjoy entertaining and frequently host dinners as fundraisers for local non-profits and charities

Comments (8)

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  1. I love cold poached chicken and this looks really tasty. I’d love to try the olive oil poaching. I’ve done Tuna like that, but never chicken breasts. Great idea. 😀

  2. […] Napoleon and Cold Olive Oil Poached Chicken Salad ~ from Victor and Charles at The Taste of […]

  3. I second what Cathy says — can’t wait to try poaching chicken in olive oil! This salad looks so summery…very nice!

  4. […] Charles‘s Cold Olive Oil-Poached Chicken, Potato & Watercress Salad with Buttermilk at The Taste of Oregon […]

  5. […] Napoleon and Cold Olive Oil Poached Chicken Salad ~ from Victor and Charles at The Taste of […]

  6. Danielle says:

    Wow you’re brave for attempting to sous vide meat without a sous vide machine! I am so sorry you had to stay up in vain - I bet the results were worth it though!

  7. […] Napoleon and Cold Olive Oil Poached Chicken Salad ~ from Victor and Charles at The Taste of […]

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