There is something really special, sacred even, about Sundays.
Whether you consider it the first or last day of your week, Sunday is a beautiful in-between moment to shake off the days before while preparing for and breathing life into the the ahead.
Growing up, Sundays were for Mom’s slow cooked pot roast invigorating the entire house with its warm, hearty and comforting scent. In the fall and winter months, Sunday was also for Dad’s chili, his secret-sauce garlic buttered bread, and football.
Sundays were also for homework, tackling loads of laundry, chores and even working. Over the last few years, I’ve tried to slow down on Sundays. Relax, reset, and soak up the time. While slowing down and savoring, I also try to prepare for the week ahead. I started a new almost-weekly tradition of roasting a whole chicken and throwing the bones together with vegetables to make broth or stock that would sustain us through the week with soups, stews, or even for sipping as a gentle breakfast.
I have this rule. I won’t eat anything that looks like it did when it was alive. Steak? Good. Lobster? Not so much. At least not whole. Whole chickens almost violate this rule. I combat this by purchasing whole chickens from local farmers. Not only are pasture-raised birds more nutritious, but buying from local farmers ensures that these birds are well-cared for before coming to my kitchen. Birds raised on pasture are allowed to develop their personalities, stretch their little chicken legs, and behave like actual chickens. Pecking, perusing, wandering and roosting.
My mom makes a killer roasted chicken with crispy, crunchy skin coated in a medley of dried herbs. I used to watch her gently lift the skin from the chicken breast as she carved the meat for dinner and eat it, the simple and rewarding pleasure of a meal well made. I used to try to sneak some skin when she wasn’t looking, that satisfying, almost luxurious, burst of flavor.
To be entirely honest, I haven’t yet mastered the crispy, crunchy skin. I’ve tried searing tiny pastured chickens on all sides in a heavy cast iron skillet before roasting. Butter on top of the skin, butter under the skin, slathered in coconut oil. To be frank, I also have a somewhat miserable habit of slightly undercooking my chicken. My works-in-food-safety-fiance is totally against this. Don’t get me wrong — I do not serve raw chicken. I just fear the overcooked and dried out chicken breast and thus err on the side of caution. (Or, rather, on the side of slightly less done.)
Poaching an entire chicken is a process new and utterly foreign to me. Boiling an entire bird? Come again? But oh man! What an experience this is. So much less fuss. So much less undercooked chicken. And so much soft, juicy meat that literally falls off the bone.
Most whole poached chicken recipes I’ve come across call for a basic mirepoix to flavor the stock. I’m totally down with mixing carrots, onions and celery together — when they’re in season. I wondered if I could replace the currently out-of-season celery with something available at the farmers market. I picked up a bag of mixed root vegetables from Nash’s Organic Produce and used colorful baby beets, carrots, sunchokes and a rutabaga to flavor my stock along with onions, garlic and some dried locally foraged porcini mushrooms.
This is hardly a recipe. Consider it a source for inspiration. If you can’t find the same root vegetables that I used, then substitute with what you have available. Turnips instead of rutabaga, or add in parsnips. Use leeks instead of (or in addition to) onions. Just avoid using potatoes (which are starchier and give off less flavor) or more delicate vegetables like broccoli.
The stock that remained after poaching the chicken was deep in color and rich in flavor. There was a hint of the sweet earthiness from the beets but it was not at all overwhelming. Make sure to scrub all of your roots vegetables clean before adding to the pot — an earthy flavor does not equal dirt.
I like chicken a lot because chicken is generous — that is to say, it’s obedient. It will do whatever you tell it to do.
— Maya Angelou
- Whole chicken
- Root veggies
- Dried porcini mushrooms
What to do with poached chicken
If you are not planning to serve the meat (especially the breasts) right away after poaching, you can store the entire chicken in the cooled poaching liquid in the fridge or you can remove all the meat from the bones and shred except the breast meat. Remove the breasts from the back but keep intact (i.e. meat still on the breast bones) until ready to use. This meat tends to dry out quickly, and keeping it altogether will help to prevent that.
This meat can be used however else you might use cooked chicken. It makes excellent sandwiches or chicken salad. Toss the cooked meat with fried rice or add to stir-fries, soups or stews. Use to fill tacos, enchiladas or burrito bowls. The stock can be used for soups and stews. Having cooked chicken and broth on hand makes for quick meals throughout the week!
Winter Poached Chicken with Root Vegetables
4-6 pound pastured whole chicken
3 whole carrots, snapped into pieces
4 small baby beets (I used purple, golden and chioggia)
3 small sunchokes
1 onion, quartered
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 sprigs fresh sage
½ bunch parsley stems (or a few full parsley sprigs)
Salt and pepper
Get prepping! Scrub your root veggies clean and rinse any herbs you plan to add to the pot. Remove any giblets from the chicken and set aside. (I believe you can add them to this stock, but I did not. Set aside to use for another batch of broth, or to eat.) Gently rinse your chicken inside and out and pat dry. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, remembering to sprinkle some in the cavity.
Pour about two cups of room temperature water over the dried mushrooms (enough water to cover them completely). Let them sit for 5-10 minutes until they’re just softened. You can reserve the mushroom broth for use later (it’s great in risotto), or discard.
Place the chicken in the biggest stock pot you have with the veggies, herbs and soaked mushrooms. Pour in cool water until the chicken is covered. My pot was a tad too small so the breast of my chicken was slightly sticking out of the water, so I flipped the chicken upside-down.
Put the pot over medium heat and wait for the water to come to a simmer. Try to avoid letting the water come to a full boil, which may toughen the meat. Once the water is simmering, adjust the temperature if necessary to avoid bringing the water to a boil. Let the bird simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour.
After 1 hour, remove the pot from the heat and cover immediately. Let sit for 1 more hour. The chicken will continue to cook. (See notes below.)
Remove the chicken from the pot and shred the meat, reserving the breasts if you don’t plan to use the white meat right away. Keep the bones if you want to make another batch of broth, or discard. Remove and discard the vegetables. Taste the broth. If the flavor seems thin, return the pot to the stove and reduce the stock to intensify the flavor. (You can add the bones back in, too.) If you like the flavor, strain the stock and refrigerate or freeze.
After finishing my first pot of poached chicken, I realized I had a similar recipe on hand in The Real Food Cookbook by Nina Planck. Nina prepares her chicken a bit differently, simmering for only 45-60 minutes and removing the chicken immediately when done. She then removes the meat and places the bones in a fresh pot with new vegetables, herbs and the poaching liquid which is then simmered to create a separate broth. The white meat on my bird was slightly dry. This may be because I accidentally let the water briefly boil, or perhaps because the bird really didn’t need to sit as long in the pot as it did. If you try Nina’s method (as I will in the future), poke your bird to see that the white meat is not pink to ensure it’s fully cooked before removing from the liquid. I didn’t think it necessary to further simmer or reduce my broth after poaching because it was flavorful enough (and an extra step for which I did not have time). If you have a different method for poaching a whole chicken, I would love to learn it!