Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Whole Poached Chicken & Homemade Stock

We had snow this past Saturday.  And I don't mean little flurries for five minutes, I mean a record-breaking 5.2 inches of accumulation, resulting in suspended train service, downed trees, and loss of power in some areas.  Yes, it is still October.  I slept under two sheets, a duvet cover, a coverlet, and a comforter with the heat on.  I was also wearing two shirts, pajama bottoms, and running socks.  It was cold.  Thank goodness I had this in my fridge to keep me warm.

It may not look like the most glamorous thing in the world, but this whole poached chicken in homemade stock is hands down the easiest and best comfort food I've ever had.  With less than 5 minutes of prep work and about 20 minutes of cooking, you can get an amazing broth that is out of this world and some of the moistest, velvetiest (apparently that is a word) chicken you've ever tasted.  And can I say again how easy this is?

I know I write a food blog, but here's a deep dark secret: until I made this, I'd never cooked a whole chicken before.  I know, it's a basic kitchen skill that most people who spend as much time as I do in the kitchen should have mastered a long time ago.  But I never did.  I had many excuses: I always worried about undercooking the chicken, I don't have a meat thermometer (I actually don't own any kitchen thermometers), I don't like white meat, so on.  But even with all these excuses, I knew I would had to get around to it someday.

I joke with my family and friends that every time I try a new recipe I am adding to my "dowry," as my future husband will benefit from whatever kitchen skills I've acquired over time.  It may sound a little strange, but sometimes I do work on building my recipe base with the thought that someday I will have to use my knowledge to feed someone else, someone who may not be as content as I am with eating poached eggs and arugula salads all the time.  Thus, I figure knowing how to cook an entire chicken is a fairly important skill.  (So is knowing how to properly cook a steak, but that's for another day.  [Though, for the record, I have made steak before and it was delicious, but steak is one of those things that, much as I love it, I can't justify making it for myself, and I'd much rather have someone else make it for me.])

People say roasting a chicken is easy but I find that the white meat when it is cooked that way gets to tiresome.  I can't make myself eat it.  And now that I'm cooking for one, I don't want to make something that I won't enjoy.  So instead of roasting, I found a recipe for poaching a chicken, which sounded so good I had to try it.  All the ingredients are fairly standard, and I was blown away by the simplicity of the recipe.

I spent no more than 30 minutes in the kitchen, then I turned off my stove, left my apartment, went to the lab for 4 hours, and came home to a perfectly cooked chicken.  I thought that kind of thing only happened in movies!  And this one pot recipe that gives you two amazing products at the end: some delicious chicken stock and a succulent poached chicken, which can be used in other dishes.  Think sandwiches, salad, risotto.... endless possibilities!

And best of all?  It really is the most moist and velvety meat I've ever tasted.  And the stock is amazing.  I wasn't too sold on it when I tasted it before dropping the chicken in, but the extra time at the end of the poaching makes all the difference.  Now I can't get enough of it.  It's delicious, comforting, and just the right thing for this season.  It's the perfect rainy day food.  And the perfect snowy day food.  It's also great if you're starting to feel sick or taking care of someone sick.  You know what?  It's great for any day.  The stock and the chicken make the perfect comfort food.  So if you're feeling a little down this week, here is what the doctor (okay, medical student) ordered.

Because I can't for the life of me follow a recipe, I made this work with what I have in my kitchen.  If you don't have saffron go ahead and omit it; it wasn't in any of the original recipes (I only added it because I had it on hand).  Feel free to use thyme or rosemary instead.  But I would definitely not suggest you leave out the ginger.  It may sound like a lot, but I promise it's not overwhelming.  It provides a great warmth and flavor to the dish and it is what makes the stock/broth from this recipe so different from others.

Whole Poached Chicken & Homemade Stock
4 ½ quarts water (18 cups or 4 ¼ L)
1 cup sliced ginger (skin on)
10 garlic cloves, crushed
2 medium or large carrots (about 1.5 lbs)
2 medium sweet onions
*16-20 saffron threads (if you have it on hand)
½ tbsp black peppercorns (optional: crush/crack these lightly using a meat mallet or hammer)
1½ tbsp salt (kosher or sea salt is best)
roughly 4 lb free-range chicken
1 tsp salt

Peel/skin the onion to remove the outside layer.  Roughly chop into large wedges.
Roughly chop the carrots into large chunks (about half-inch slices is good). I washed my organic carrots very carefully and did not peel them.

Place all ingredients except for the chicken and the 1 tsp salt (last ingredient listed) into a very large (8- or 10-quart) stockpot and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse.

Meanwhile, rinse the chicken under cold water and trim any unwanted extra fat. Rub with the 1 tsp salt (it may not seem like much, but the stock is already salted).

Lower chicken, breast-side down, into simmering stock, ensuring it is fully submerged. Put the lid on the pot.

Gently cook (read: boil) the chicken for 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow chicken to poach in the stock for at least 3 hours at room temperature to complete the cooking process. Do not open the lid or refrigerate before the 3 hours mark. This allows the chicken to gently continue cooking in the liquid to give it a moist, velvety texture.

After 3 hours, you can put the entire pot in the fridge to cool. I leave my chicken in the stock.
Alternatively, you can remove the chicken from the stock (most easily done with tongs). If you'd like, you can also strain the stock to use for cooking purposes (strained stock will keep in the freezer for about 3 months). I find this a waste of perfectly good vegetables, and so I keep everything and eat it like a soup.
The ginger and peppercorns can be removed if so desired.

note: you can also make this with thighs and drumsticks.  I didn't change the cooking time at all when I did this.

1 comment:

  1. I usually don't comment online but i have to tell you, this is the best chicken recipe ever! i found it on google because we're in the midst of a sweltering aussie summer and the airconditioning is broken and i didn't want to use the oven to cook the chicken i'd defrosted. wow! we just finished it, and my family of six thought it was the best chicken they'd ever had. thanks!!