The weekend project is back after a brief hiatus! Before I proceed however, I'd like to alert you to the charity blogging efforts of Ms. Sam over at Becks and Posh , who is participating in the Blogathon charity fundraising event tomorrow (that's Saturday). She is even offering prizes ! If you're in the San Francisco area in particular, be sure to go over and donate.
After you have donated to a worthy cause and are basking in the glow of your own goodness, it's time to focus attention back on your own (and your family's) food needs. As I've mentioned in the past few days, the summer heatwave makes it hard to get up the appetite, let alone cook anything. One thing I can always eat is a fresh, cool chicken salad. The key ingredient for a good chicken salad is homemade, moist poached chicken. The best tasting poached chicken is made by cooking a whole, preferably organic bird, or two of them if you want and have a big enough pot. The chicken(s) can then be stored in the refrigerator for a few days or for longer in the freezer. You'll also end up with a bonus potful of chicken stock.
Poaching chickens is quite easy, but if you overcook it you will end up with stringy, tough, dried out meat, which is not too nice. The method I use results in very moist meat every time. I think I read the method of leaving the chicken to cook in the residual heat of the pot first in Today's Cooking, my favorite Japanese food magazine.
The flavor of the chicken is controlled by the aromatic ingredients you put in the pot with it. In my case I always use onion, celery, ginger, bay leaf, parsley, and lemon: this gives a very clean and fairly neutral tasting chicken and stock that can be used for any dish that calls for cold chicken. Note that no salt is used, because salt can toughen up the meat. The good thing is that you don't have to watch the pot after the first few minutes, thus getting you out of your hot kitchen. Don't forget to set the timer so you go and do what you have to do to the pot when called upon.
The one messy part of the process is de-skinning and de-boning the chicken, which is most easily accomplished with your hands. Other than that it's very simple to do. And once it's done you have enough meat ready to go for several meals, depending on the size or quantity of the birds you cooked. Some ideas for using cold poached chicken include:
You can also heat up the chicken briefly and toss it into spaghetti sauce, etc.
Equipment needed: a pot that is large enough to hold the chickens plus water to cover, with a tight fitting lid. An enameled cast-iron or heavy stainless steel pot are ideal.
Remove any giblets, etc. from the birds and wash them under running water. (If your birds came with neck pieces you can add that to the water for additional flavor to the stock.) Place in the pot.
Peel the onion and cut into quarters. Slice the ginger fairly thickly. Put all the vegetables. bay leaf and lemon into the pot. Fill with water enough to completely cover everything plus about 2 cm / an inch.
Bring the pot to a boil on high heat. When it's come up to boiling point, lower the heat to medium-low (it should still be bubbling but not rolling). Skim off all the scum that comes up for 15 minutes. At the end of that time, turn off the heat and cover the pot with a tight fitting lid, and let it sit for at least 1 hour, up to 90 minutes. (If you are using a ceramic or electric stove, pull the pot off the heat.)
Open the pot and cut into your bird around the legs. It should be perfectly cooked through, with no red or pink, but still moist. If it still seems raw, put the pot back on the stove, bring up to a boil again, then turn the heat off and leave with the lid on for an additional 30 minutes.
Take the chickens out of the pot, letting the liquid drain back into the pot (careful, it's very hot!). Let cool enough to handle. Remove the skin, and take off the meat in as big chunks as you can manage.
Store the meat, well covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it.
If you want to keep the stock, fish out the flavoring ingredients and put it in the refrigerator until it's cold and the fat has congealed on top. Strain and store in the freezer until you need chicken stock in a recipe.