Poaching

 

A whole chicken poached in a flavoursome broth is one of the most delicate dishes. You can also poach chicken breasts or thighs, with or without stuffing. Poached chicken meat is perfect for pie fillings and sandwiches.

POACHING A WHOLE BIRD

Gentle poaching is one of the classic ways of cooking a chicken. It leaves the meat tender and juicy, and produces a delicious broth. Trussing the chicken first ensures it retains its shape during cooking, while the weight of the bird determines the poaching time - allow 20 minutes per 450 g, poaching over a gentle heat on top of the stove.

1. Truss the chicken, including the neck end if you like, and place in a large pan. Pour over enough cold water to just cover the chicken. Bring the liquid slowly to the boil over a moderate heat.

2. Skim the surface with a slotted spoon. Lower the heat and add sliced carrots, onions and a bouquet garni. Poach, partially covered, for the calculated cooking time.

3. When the chicken is tender, remove from the poaching liquid, holding it over the pan so that as much liquid as possible drains from the bird. Remove the trussing string and cut the chicken into pieces. Use the poaching liquid as a basic chicken stock or reduce and thicken to make a sauce.

SHREDDING POACHED POULTRY

The firm breast meat is best suited to this technique. Remove the breasts from the carcass while still warm - they will come away more easily. Begin shredding at the tip of the breast and work along to the other end, using a fine-pronged large fork.

Place the chicken breast-side up on a cutting board and pull off the skin. Remove the breasts from the carcass and shred the meat with the prongs of a fork. Remove the leg and wing meat from the carcass with your fingers; use as bite-sized pieces or shred if you like.

POULE AU POT

A whole poached chicken was the favourite dish of the French king, Henri Navarre, so much so that he wished his subjects could eat it on every Sunday of the year. Poule au pot is now one of the great classics of French cooking, and there are many regional variations. It may be stuffed with a mixture of breadcrumbs, sausagemeat and its own chopped liver, or with tarragon and lemon, or with truffles under the skin.

SHREDDED POULTRY

Shredded poultry absorbs flavours and combines well with many flavoursome ingredients.

• Add to béchamel sauce, chill, then fill crêpes. Bake, topped with grated Parmesan.

• Mix shredded chicken or duck with sliced spring onion, grated ginger and soy sauce. Use to fill filo bundles or Chinese wontons.

• Serve shredded poultry on a bed of salad leaves, spoon over warm chilli and garlic dressing and top with croûtons.

POACHING PINWHEELS

This clever technique is surprisingly simple - chicken breasts are cut open, then rolled around a filling. After cooking, the rolls are sliced crosswise to reveal pinwheel shapes. For the filling, choose colourful and juicy ingredients, such as pepper strips, spinach, herbs and soft cheese. Here the rolls are foil-wrapped and poached; they can be wrapped in bacon and roasted.

1. Cut through one long side of a skinless, boneless chicken breast, leaving it attached on the opposite side. Detach the fillet and set aside.

2. Open the breast out flat, cut-side up. Put it between two sheets of baking parchment and pound with a rolling pin or meat mallet to flatten and stretch it. Remove the top sheet of parchment. Spread your chosen stuffing (in this case goat's cheese and chopped spinach) evenly over the cut side.

3. Replace the fillet in the centre of the breast, parallel to the long sides. Starting from one long side, roll the meat into a cylinder.

4. Roll the paper around the cylinder, pulling it tightly as you go, and twist the ends to seal. Wrap in foil and twist the ends as before.

5. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the roll. Poach, covered, over a gentle heat for 15 minutes or until a metal skewer feels warm when withdrawn from the centre. Remove from the pan, unwrap and slice crosswise on the diagonal.

THE ASIAN ALTERNATIVE

Asian chefs often prefer to retain the succulence of chicken breasts by poaching or steaming them in wrappers that also enclose flavour-imparting ingredients, such as lemon grass stalks.

1. Cut a banana leaf into four squares, each one large enough to envelop a chicken breast. Brush each centre with a 1:1 hoisin and soy sauce mix. Place a chicken breast on each and top with lemon grass and a few slices of fresh root ginger. Spoon over more soy sauce.

2. Wrap each leaf square around the chicken breast to make a neat parcel and secure with string if necessary. Place 1-2 packages at a time in a steamer basket over simmering water and cook for 15 minutes. Serve the chicken breasts in their banana leaves to be unwrapped at the table.