I think all cooks have their Achilles’ heel, something they just can’t or don’t like to do. Mine is meat. Don’t get me wrong, I like meat, I eat it and I’m far from being a vegetarian, but I don’t cook it a lot. Many of our meals at home don’t include meat and when they do, meat isn’t the star, merely the supporting role. You won’t be served a T-bone steak at my table. Not that I have something against it, but I lack confidence in preparing it.
And I hate bones and giblets and offal and everything that reminds me meat has once been part of an animal.
There, I said it. E often mocks me and says that I prefer to think that chicken breasts grow in trees all plump and pink – well, I’m ashamed to admit it but he’s kind of right. There’s a famous restaurant chain in Quebec that’s known for its roasted chicken. When I was young, my family and I would go there for special occasions. While the specialties were roasted chicken thighs and breasts, served deliciously moist under a crispy skin, I always ordered the chicken fillets: the pristine white pieces of chicken breast coated with breadcrumbs and fried. And you know what? I’m still ordering the same old dish when I go back; the only thing that’s changed is that I now have the adult portion.
Before: Unappetizing raw chicken. After: Tasty Chicken Tostada.
When we travel, E is game for anything. He’ll try whatever’s a local specialty and he’s had his share of “frightening” dishes put in front of him: a plate of shrimps as big as my hand complete with eyes, shell, legs and antennae in Greece; a pork knuckle with the bone protruding out (and some hair still in) in Germany; monster oysters so big you can’t eat them in one mouthful in Scotland; tripes (enough said) in Normandy. He enjoyed most of these dishes and, as a bonus, he had fun seeing my alarmed look when servers put his plate in front of him. When this happens, I can’t look at him eating, I have to focus on my plate. He’ll give me a bite to taste, but only a perfect, clean ready-to-eat one that I enjoy while I try to wipe his plate’s image from my brain.
Left: pork knuckle in Germany. Right: gigantic oysters in Scotland. No, I didn’t take a picture of the enormous shrimps. Still trying to erase them off my brain.
I know that this is borderline ridiculous and I’ve been kind of ashamed to admit this irrational “condition” of mine. I mean, I’ve cooked bone-in chicken before, but once it’s cooked, it’s E’s job to carve. What goes onto our plates are fillets and boneless thighs, nothing else.
Last week, while browsing through old magazines, I read an article about the merits of poaching bone-in and skin-on chicken pieces for the pleasure of enjoying many great meals made with the meat and stock gathered through the process. A recipe of Chicken Tostadas with Salsa Verde seemed so delicious that I thought, now is the time to overcome this childish disdain and take care of the chicken myself. I mean, can I really call myself a true gourmande if I can’t accept the idea that meat comes from living animals with bones and organs and everything else? If not, I might as well become a vegetarian.
And so I started with a small step, poaching breasts and thighs (not ready for the whole bird yet). I manipulated the meat, cooked it, carved it and managed to enjoy the meal afterwards. Mind you, my throat was a bit tight at times, I closed my eyes and took deep breaths at others and I wore gloves throughout the process, but still, I did it!
This probably seems trivial to most of you, but it’s a true accomplishment to me. I really enjoyed feeling the satisfaction of being able to say to my friends who enjoyed the Tostadas afterwards, “I did it myself!” Of course they had a little laugh at me, but they loved their meal and that’s what counts.
Now, if you ever need help to carve the Thanksgiving turkey, give me a call!
How to Poach a Chicken
Inspired by a How-To Everyday Food Article
This method of cooking renders a tender and moist chicken as well as a very tasty broth, both of which you can use in a variety of dishes (like the Chicken Tostadas below).
Makes about 6 cups poached chicken and 8 cups broth
4 ½ to 5 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts and thighs (I used 4 whole breasts and 2 thighs)
1 onion, cut into 8 wedges
2 carrots, quartered crosswise
2 stalks celery, quartered crosswise
2 dried bay leaves
3 garlic cloves
6 sprigs Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried
Cooking the Chicken:
Combine all ingredients in a 5-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid. Don’t put all the vegetables on top, insert some under the chicken pieces. Cover with water by 2 inches.
All of the ingredients packed in a Dutch oven. My pot as you see it above was filled over its capacity, there wasn’t enough room to cover everything with 2 inches of water and still close the lid. I ended up splitting the recipe and putting one breast and one thigh (with some of the flavorings) in a separate pot.
Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook chicken until no longer pink in center and the meat is fork tender, about 25-30 minutes. You can’t really overcook the meat when poaching it, it’ll just become more tender.
The pot as it looks like after cooking:
Straining the broth and cooling the chicken:
Transfer chicken to a baking sheet; arrange in a single layer and cool. With a slotted spoon, remove and discard vegetables. Leave stock in the pot and reserve while you take care of the chicken.
When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard skin. Remove the meat from the bones, putting the meat in a bowl and quickly cleaning the bones of any fat or other inedible parts. Put the bones back into the broth and bring to a boil again. Simmer very gently, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes more. Using the bones again will deepen your broth’s flavor even more.
While the broth is simmering, shred the chicken meat with forks or chop, as desired. Keep the cooked chicken in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or freeze in portions for future use.
Using gloves to handle the chicken: optional.
The plump cooked chicken separated from its skin and bones.
When the broth is some, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve lined with a damp paper towel (works really well!). Once cooled, refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
Deliciously tasty chicken broth.
Chicken Tostadas with Salsa Verde
Adapted from Everyday Food Magazine
As I said above, I invited friends to share the fruits of my labor. To serve the tostadas, I prepped the vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, avocado) and laid all the garnishes (including sour cream and salsa verde) in individual bowls in the center of the dining room table. I served the tostadas straight out of the oven and let each guest garnish his or her own tostada. A quick and easy dinner to serve with a cold beer!
Makes 4 servings
4 (6-inch) flour tortillas
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
2 ½ cups shredded poached chicken
1 cup jarred salsa verde, plus more for serving
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 avocado, diced and sprinkled with lime juice (to prevent it from browning)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange tortillas on a baking sheet. Sprinkle cheese evenly over tortillas; bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, toss together chicken, salsa, ¼ cup cilantro and cumin. Spoon mixture evenly over tortillas; bake until heated through, about 8 minutes.
To serve, top with lettuce, tomato, avocado, more salsa verde and sour cream. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro. Serve immediately.