Dearly as I love a burnished, crisp-skinned roast chicken, for value for money you can’t beat poaching the bird. There’s so much to love.
You get beautifully moist meat which can be eaten right away with a sauce made from the stock. Sauce Supreme is the French classic; Catherine Phipps suggests caper sauce; I favour one made with lemon, butter and herbs, keeping the stock for later.
Or you can eke out the meat in a whole series of dishes, perhaps a risotto or pilaf or egg fried rice, in a pie, with pasta (Diana Henry makes cavatelli with chicken, pancetta, peas and cream in A Bird In The Hand), in a salad or in the best chicken mayo sandwich ever. The chicken oyster is your world. Sorry.
You also get a big pot of deeply flavoured chicken stock. For optimum results, when the chicken is done, strip the meat and put the bones back in the stock for further cooking and reducing. This recipe will give you a sort of European ‘mother’ stock. If you’d like to push the flavours towards other cuisines, you can change the aromatics accordingly from the off, or make the base stock and tweak smaller quantities of it later.
The only unattractive thing about poached chicken is the flabby skin. Don’t waste it. Crisped up, chicken crackling makes a great snack and it’s really good crumbled over finished dishes or whipped into butter for an umami hit. There’s a recipe here, which also give you ideas for the schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat. Epicurious has further uses for schmaltz here.
If those of us who are omnivores are going to eat chicken, the least we can do is use every tasty scrap. Whatever you choose to make, buy the best quality chicken you can afford, free range if possible.
1 large chicken (1.75kg-2kg)
1 or 2 leeks, thoroughly cleaned, roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 or 3 carrots, scrubbed and roughly chopped
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, don’t bother peeling
A bunch of parsley or parsley stalks
3 bay leaves
A sprig of thyme
A few sprigs of tarragon if you have it
8-10 black peppercorns
A good pinch of sea salt
Put the chicken, with its giblets if you have them (not the liver though) into your biggest pan. Pour in enough cold water to almost cover it – any exposed parts will steam during cooking – and add the salt.
Bring to the boil on a medium heat. Skim off any scum, add the remaining ingredients, and simmer very gently for 45 minutes to an hour or until the juices run clear when you poke a knife in the thickest part.
Remove the bird from the pot and rest it. You can use both chicken and stock at this point but read on if you’d like a more intense broth.
Once the bird is cool enough to handle, take the meat off the bones and if not using straight away, cool, cover and store in the fridge. First pour a little stock over it to keep it moist, another tip from Catherine Phipps. Look how much meat I got off this bird …
Put the bones back into the stock pot and continue to simmer gently for at least 40 minutes, longer if you have time. Bone broth aficionados would say upwards of five hours. I have never done this because I am both impatient and sceptical. Please don’t write to me.
Either way the stock should gradually reduce and intensify. Taste it from time to time until it reaches the desired flavour, then strain it, discarding the bones and stock veg. It will keep in the fridge for three or four days or can be frozen for up to three months.