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I know that “boiled” anything is not a popular concept these days (one reason I call this “poached”), but don’t disdain or neglect this elemental dish. It is still one of the easiest and most satisfying one-pot meals we can give our families. It’s also faster to make than ever: the big birds I buy—plump, meaty, and best when organically raised—are thoroughly cooked, tender, and moist after barely 45 minutes in the broth. When you really want to make it festive, substitute a capon for the chicken. And with markets that offer an unprecedented array of produce and herbs in all seasons, we can surround the chicken with a greater variety of vegetables than our great-great-grandmothers ever had at one time. In this recipe, I’ve loaded the pot with seven hearty and aromatic vegetables (almost 5 pounds’ worth), but you can certainly choose others or vary the amounts. Just cut enough vegetables overall to give everyone a bountiful serving, drizzling the meat and vegetables with some extra-virgin olive oil and a few grains of sea salt to make it complete. But I also hope you’ll top each portion, as I do, with a dollop of salsa verde, a traditional condiment for boiled foods. The bright, acidic flavor and fresh, uncooked texture of the finely chopped salsa are a perfect counterpoint to the poached meat and vegetables—it makes a meal of boiled chicken exciting as well as comforting.
serves 6 to 8, with extra broth
For the Broth
6 quarts cold fresh water
1/4 cup coarse sea salt, or 3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1/4 cup (1/4 ounce) dried porcini slices
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1 or 2 pieces hard rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, if available, rinsed and scraped (see page 66)
3/4 pound leeks, 11/2 inches thick, trimmed and rinsed
1/2 pound large carrots, trimmed and peeled
1/2 pound small parsnips, trimmed and peeled
1/2 pound large celery stalks, trimmed
3/4 pound celery root, completely peeled and trimmed
1 fennel bulb, stalks trimmed and coarse outer leaves pulled off
8 small onions (each about 2 ounces), peeled
The Chicken and Seasonings
31/2-to-4-pound roasting chicken with giblets
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 fresh bay leaves
1 small or medium lemon
Salsa Verde (page 362) and/or Smooth Sweet Red Pepper Sauce (page 364)
Gnoccho Grande (page 336)
A 10-to-12-quart stockpot
Cheesecloth to make a 30-inch square, triple thickness
Starting the Broth and Vegetables
Pour the water into the pot, set it over low heat to get started, and add the seasonings—salt, peppercorns, porcini, bay leaves, and cheese rind. Cut up all vegetables as follows, and drop them into the pot:
Cut the leeks crosswise into 4-inch lengths, but don’t slice them open.
Cut the carrots and parsnips crosswise into 3-inch lengths; slice thick sections lengthwise in half or quarters, so all pieces are about 1 inch thick (throw the skinny pointed ends of the parsnips into the broth too).
With a vegetable peeler, shave off the outer layer of the celery stalks, then cut crosswise into 3-inch lengths.
Slice the celery root into 2-inch, roughly square chunks.
Trim off the tough root end of the fennel bulb, but leave the core intact so the leaves are held together; slice the bulb into six or eight wedges, through the core.
Trim the onions but leave the root ends intact, so the layers are held together.
When all the vegetables are in the pot, put on the cover and turn the heat to high. Bring the water to a rolling boil, set the cover ajar (I prop it up on a big wooden spoon), and lower the heat to maintain a moderate bubbling. Cook the broth and vegetables for about 30 minutes, while you prepare the chicken.
Prepping the Chicken
Remove the giblets and neck from the chicken, rinse well, and drop them all (including the liver) into the broth. Rinse the chicken under cold running water. Set it on a cutting board; chop off the tail piece and add it to the pot. Pull off all clumps of fat and discard. Twist and fold the wingtips against the neck, so they stay in place under the breast.
Put the seasonings into the body cavity: the salt, the peppercorns, the smashed garlic cloves, and the bay leaves. Rinse the lemon, cut it in half crosswise, squeeze the juice from both pieces into the cavity, then push in the squashed lemon halves too. Press the bird’s legs together, close to the body, so the cavity is covered and the chicken is compact and evenly shaped.
Spread out the cheesecloth square and place the chicken in the center. Lift two diagonally opposite corners, draw the cloth up and around the bird, and tie the corners in a simple overhand knot. Tighten the knot so it rests on the chicken breast and the cloth is snug against the bird. Now lift the other corners of the cheesecloth and bring them together, tie in another knot, and tighten it to wrap the chicken up completely. Tie the loose ends in square knots that won’t unravel.
Finally, cut a length of twine about a yard long (I double it for strength) and tie one end of the twine under the bulging cheesecloth topknots, in a secure knot. You should now be able to lift the cloth-wrapped chicken with the string—test it now, over the worktable, because you’ll need to lift the cooked chicken out of the boiling broth the same way.
Cooking the Chicken and Serving
When the broth and vegetables have been cooking for 1/2 hour, uncover, and lower the chicken into the broth with your strong string. Make sure the chicken is submerged, then loop the string around a handle of the stockpot, or any anchor point. Bring the broth back to a good boil, then adjust the heat to keep a steady but gentle bubbling on the surface.
Cook the chicken, uncovered, for 40 to 50 minutes (less for a smaller chicken, more for a larger one or if you are using a capon). Set a big bowl close to the chicken pot. Turn off the heat, grasp your twine, lift the chicken bundle straight up above the stock, and lower it into the bowl.
Let the chicken rest in the cheesecloth while you check the vegetables—they should be soft but not falling apart. Cook longer or lift them out of the broth with a spider or other big strainer, into a big bowl. Ladle a bit of hot broth onto the vegetables, and cover with foil or a pot lid to keep them warm.
To free the chicken, lift it from the bowl onto a tray, a board, or a big piece of foil, which will catch the juices. Cut the twine, untie the cheesecloth knots—try to keep the cloth whole—and unwrap the bird. Spoon out the lemon, bay leaves, and other seasonings from the cavity and discard. To keep the chicken warm, put it back in the bowl, doused with fresh hot broth and covered.
To strain the broth, drape the moist cheesecloth inside a colander or large strainer and set it over a big pot or bowl (you’ll still have several quarts of stock). Pour the broth through the cheesecloth. Taste it for flavor; use (and store) as is, or bring it to a boil and reduce it if you want to concentrate it.
To make a two-course meal, cook some thin pasta such as capellini or stelline (little stars) or rice in the broth and serve with some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for the first course. Then serve the chicken, whole or cut up, on a warm serving platter, surrounded with the vegetables. (If they have cooled off, warm them up in broth.) Pass around salsa verde and/or pepper sauce at the table.
For my family, I like to carve the whole hot chicken at the table and assemble plates, arranging a few pieces of every vegetable around the chicken and spooning 2 tablespoons or more of salsa verde all across the top of the chicken and vegetables, with more salsa verde on the side.
Warm Chicken Salad
For the dressing, put 1/2 cup water, 3 tablespoons white vinegar, and 1 teaspoon honey into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Drop 3 tablespoons of golden raisins into the pan, and poach them gently for 4 minutes; then lift them out with a slotted spoon. Return the liquid to a boil, and cook rapidly until it is reduced to 3 tablespoons. Pour the dressing out of the pan to cool.
To assemble the salad
Toast 3 tablespoons pine nuts in a dry pan until golden.
Shred chicken meat to make 3 cups or so. Put the chicken in a pan with a few spoonfuls of broth (or water), and toss the shreds over low heat just to warm up and refresh. Put the shreds in a mixing bowl, and toss with the warm vinegar-honey dressing, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt—or more to taste. Scatter the plumped raisins and toasted pine nuts over the chicken, and toss together.
Arrange the salad on a bed of greens, on a large platter or individual salad plates, and serve while the chicken is still slightly warm.
A Simple Soup with Savory Chicken Broth
This recipe gives you the bonus of several quarts of tasty broth. Whether you serve the broth as a soup right away, or save most of it for future meals, garnish it with any of the choices suggested for Turkey Broth (page 80): passatelli, tagliolini, quickly cooked tender spinach leaves, Cheesy Crostini (page 60), or just a heap of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano.
From Lidia's Family table by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich Copyright (c) 2004 by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich Published by Knopf.Lidia Bastianich hosts the hugely popular PBS show, "Lidia's Italian-American kitchen" and owns restaurants in New York City, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh. Also the author of Lidia's Italian Table and Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen, she lives in Douglaston, New York. Jay Jacob's journalism has appeared in many national magazines.From the Trade Paperback edition.