We were watching Rachel Ray make something-or-other when she instructed the viewer to “add the boiled chicken.” My husband said, “Boiled chicken? You just… boil a chicken?” Well, kind of, but not really. I thought of how many recipes include “3 cups diced cooked chicken.” Where do most people get that three cups of cooked chicken… do they buy one of those canned chickens (I have seen photos and that is as close as I ever intend to get to one of those)? Do they buy a rotisserie chicken? Or do they just turn to another recipe?
“Boiled” chicken is actually poached chicken. If you were to cook a chicken at a full boil for an hour…. oh God, I can’t even imagine what that would result in, but you wouldn’t want to eat it. To poach a chicken, you do bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat so it simmers. Result: lots of moist, tender chicken meat, and a bonus of delicious chicken broth.
So: put the chicken and all its guts in a stockpot (i.e. a pot that is taller than it is wide) or at least a pot that will hold the chicken comfortably. Add an onion (you don’t have to peel it – cut in half if it fits better), a carrot or two (also not peeled, but cut up), a stalk of celery (ditto), a bay leaf, a garlic clove or two or three, and a few peppercorns. No salt! Add cold water to cover the chicken. If you have some white wine or dry white vermouth lying around, pour a generous glug of that in too.
Put the pot on the stove, turn the heat on high, and wait…
As the water gets closer to a boil, you will see some yucky-looking foamy grey stuff rise to the surface. Don’t flip out. It’s coagulated juices and (yes) blood. If you have ever grilled a burger, you saw the same stuff form on top of the ground beef. When protein is heated to the boiling point, this happens. Just get a spoon, scoop it off and discard it, though it isn’t toxic – it’s just unsightly.
Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat immediately and let the chicken cook at a bare simmer. If the water level drops, add more water or white wine.
How to tell when it’s done? Poke around in the leg-thigh joint with a knife. If the juices are red or pink, it isn’t done. If they’re yellow or clear, it’s done. A 4 or 5 pound chicken will take around 60 to 80 minutes. Now comes the messy part: getting a hot chicken out of the pot. Get a large bowl and a large carving fork, and carefully-but-quickly transfer the chicken to the bowl. Let the chicken cool until you can easily handle it.
Once you can handle the chicken without burning the hell out of yourself, separate the meat from the bones & skin. Put the meat in one bowl –
and put the bones & skin back in the stockpot.
The chicken is now ready to eat or use in any recipe calling for cooked chicken. Store, covered, in the refrigerator – it will last about four or five days.
Return the chicken broth to a simmer and cook for another hour or two. Then strain and discard the bones, skin, and vegetables. You now have a very flavorful stock that can be used right away, or poured into a hot sterilized container (such as a canning jar or two) and stored in the refrigerator. The fat will rise to the top as it cools, effectively sealing the broth; the fat can easily be lifted off and discarded (or used as schmaltz, for which I will refer you to The Shiksa Blog). It will keep for about five days in the fridge, after which it should be re-boiled and re-poured into a sterilized container. Or it freezes very well; pour it into small containers of a size you’d be likely use (such as 1-cup), or pour it into ice cube trays, freeze, and store the chicken broth cubes in a freezer bag for a very fast, convenient way to utilize them.