One chicken, two ways

March 5, 2010

Does anyone else have fantasies about what they would be like on Masterchef? Including awing the judges and never ever using the phrase ‘one hundred and ten percent’? Well, someone has stolen mine. Aliya, on last night’s programme, made exactly the sort of food I would want to make (chicken in a walnut and pomegranate sauce, flourless chocolate cake with ginger and cardamom), didn’t break a sweat in the professional kitchen, and she’s a nutritionist with an interest in writing a cookbook about healthy eating. And she got through to the quarter-finals. It’s an odd experience for a stranger to incarnate your very specific (and implausibly calm) Masterchef dream personality, let me tell you.

Anway, this has nothing to do with chicken. Actually, this one’s a bit of a misnomer: one chicken one way with many uses would be more accurate, if less snappy.

The disadvantage of poaching a chicken over roasting it is that you don’t get nice crispy skin, but there are several advantages to using this method which I particularly like:  it’s much quicker (at least it is if you have a pan big enough), you don’t need to be as precise about timing as there’s no danger of it drying out, and you get the bonus of the big pot of chicken stock created by the cooking. If you quickly chop some vegetables and throw them in the still-bubbling stock, with some rice or noodles on the side you have dinner made. Of course, the fact that the skin is so unappealing that you don’t want to eat it and thus save yourself from the fattiest part of the bird could also be considered an advantage (although my Scottish roots don’t like having to throw it away).

This is fairly austere food as it is, so you’ll want plenty of extras on the side: soy sauce, chilli sauce, pickled ginger, togarashi, slivers of nori, whatever Oriental accoutrements float your boat. There’s a certain childlike delight to be taken in customising your meal, I think.

One chicken, two ways  Serves 4-6

One whole, free-range chicken, around 2kg
2 slices ginger
1 spring onion, sliced
small handful coriander
salt

To serve:
soy sauce, chilli sauce etc.
thinly sliced/chopped vegetables
rice or noodles

Bring a kettleful of water to the boil and pour into your biggest pan. Put the chicken in the pan with the slices of ginger and a little salt. The water should cover the chicken, but if not don’t worry – you can turn it over halfway through cooking.

With the heat at a gentle simmer, cook the chicken for 30 minutes. Test to see if it’s cooked all the way through, and if it is, take it out and set it aside to rest for 20 minutes. If not, turn over and cook for another 30 minutes or so.

Keep the chicken stock which is now in the pan at a simmer and throw in your vegetables – I used cabbage, mushrooms and a leek. You could also cook your noodles or rice in the stock (do that first), or cook them separately.

Peel the skin from the chicken and carve it, or if you have a sharp enough knife you can just hack through the bones and cut it into pieces. If you’ve taken the chicken off the bones, you can add the bones back into the stock and keep simmering to make a richer broth.  

Serve the chicken scattered with the spring onion and coriander with the vegetables and starch on the side. Let everyone help themselves to sauces at the table.

From Deng Ming-Dao’s ‘Zen: the Art of Modern Eastern Cooking’.

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