I tried a new chicken soup technique and am not quite thrilled with the results. The point of this technique was to achieve flavorful, tender chicken. Well, the broth is tasty but the chicken is kinda tough and stringy-not awful - but I'm going for tender perfection.

I poached the cut-up whole chicken, starting with cold water, low simmer, etc. Then I removed it from the poaching water, removed the meat from the bone, tore it into small pieces, and refrigerated it. I added the bones and skin back to the poaching water with herbs, and the broth came out great.

The idea was to add the chicken pieces as needed to the broth before serving, but my first bowl reveals the aforementioned tough chicken. Researching chicken soup gives me conflicting answers; some say longer cooking will eventually make the chicken tender, and some say it will make it stringier and dryer.

So do I take some of the broth and simmer the heck out the chicken, or just deal with the toughness and try for something better next time?

2 Answers 2


There's several major reasons why meat and poultry can be tough:

  1. Collagen: muscles exist to impart a force between bones, when they contract there must be a connection between that muscle and the bone or the muscle would not be able to do work. Collagen is a strong protein that is distributed throughout a muscle and connects to a tendon, allowing the muscle to distribute its' force to the skeletal structure of the animal. The more load a muscle takes, the more collagen is needed to distribute the force, and the tougher the meat is.
  2. The animal was stressed before slaughter: if the animal was stressed before slaughter it will have lactic acid buildup resulting in tougher meat
  3. Poor treatment after slaughter: Once an animal dies chemical changes happen that toughen the meat, and the correct treatment is needed to allow the meat to relax again. If that isn't done right you'll get tough meat
  4. Freezing and thawing: freezing makes meat and poultry tougher

Collagen breaks down in the presence of heat and moisture, so a long stewing at low temperature could make your chicken tender. The collagen helps make your broth thicker and taster too! That would take a maximum of 2-3 hours on a low simmer. If it isn't tender by then it isn't tough because of collagen and there isn't much you can do. If you've got a chicken that was stressed, not processed correctly, and then frozen there's a limit to how tender you'll be able to get it. You can try cooking it a couple more hours, but if it isn't tender by then it never will be.

  • 1
    OK! Thanks so much for that! I will try a long simmer and see what happens. It is a supposedly fresh, free range, organic chicken so I would hope it received better treatment than mentioned above...
    – Etoile
    Oct 26, 2012 at 16:54
  • Update: 2 hours of simmering made it somewhat better, but, yeah, I think we're working with a losing chicken! Oh well!
    – Etoile
    Oct 26, 2012 at 20:01
  • Another technique is to tenderize the meat prior to cooking either physically, by pounding or cutting across the muscle fibers, or chemically, by adding ingredients that will help break down the collagen and muscle.
    – Suncat2000
    Dec 26, 2019 at 18:24

I have found that when cooking chicken for BIR curries (which uses pre-cooked meat which is then cooked again in the curry sauce), if you don't get the cooking time absolutely right, the meat will sometimes be tough. This all depends very much on the size and type of the chunk of meat used (breast, thigh etc), and the quality of the individual chicken. This ends up in very inconsistent results when it comes to tenderness, but can be compensated for by extending the cooking time.

In your case, what I would do is cook your chicken to the desired level of tenderness, remove the majority of the meat and immediately place it cold water to prevent further cooking. I would then return the carcass (and possibly the thigh/dark meat as well if preferred) to the stock and boil the daylights out of it until the gelatin is extracted from the bones (i.e. they are soft). I would then strain the broth of solids, leave to cool, and add the reserved chicken.

The broth will then only require gentle reheating and as the most vulnerable part of the bird is perfectly cooked, no stringiness. Depending on your preference to the texture of the meat, you can either reserve the dark meat as well, or just extract all the flavour and discard, the choice is yours.

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