Simmering a chicken in a pot for a few hours is a remarkably good way to cook the bird, and has a slightly mediaeval feel about it. Of course, you miss out on the crispy skin you’d get if you roasted the bird, but the tender succulent meat compensates nicely, as does the happy by-product of several litres of chicken stock. This does take all morning, but only involves twenty minutes’ actual work.
You’ll need a posh bird for this, but it doesn’t have to be large. For my six litre pot, I use the following:
- a small free range chicken, about 1.5 kilos, giblets removed
- some crudely chopped onions, celery and carrots – around 600 grams
- a dozen whole black peppercorns, four large cloves peeled garlic, two bay leaves, half tsp salt
Top with water up to six litres, bring to the boil, and then reduce heat to the barest simmer: you want gentle glooping, not furious bubbling. It’s important that you don’t let it boil furiously, as the liquid will go grey and horrid, and the chicken rubbery. The chook will, inconveniently, not quite submerge, so turn it over a few times, when you remember, just to make sure.
After about two hours – longer, if you have a larger bird – the chicken will be falling apart, so carefully transfer it to a rimmed chopping board – a big wooden spoon in one hand and tongs in the other will do nicely. The same tongs and spoon can then be used to strip the carcass – although you’re basically just lifting the meat off and leaving the skin and bones behind, as all of the connective tissue will have dissolved. My 1.5 kilo chicken yielded 1.25 kilos of meat without too much effort.
If you have vermin, they will come running, so make sure the kitchen is clean after this, and the grisly remains are inaccessible. If you have a cat, you won’t have vermin, but the heady aroma from the pot may get the poor mog quite excited, so some bribery may be in order. Ditto children and partners.
Now, back to the pot. You should have ended up with the best part of four litres of chicken stock. You can chuck out the veg at this stage, as they will have yielded up their flavour to the broth and not be much good. There will be some fat in the stock, which is fine if you’re using it immediately. If you put the stock in the fridge overnight, the fat will solidify and can be easily removed and discarded.
So, what to do with this?
- you could simply make risotto: 600g meat, 1.5L stock and 300g rice will feed four people generously, and save the rest of the meat and stock for another time
- serve the warm chicken meat with some boiled new potatoes, mayonnaise and salad – and then follow up with a soup made from the stock in which you’ve simmered some fresh veg and maybe some noodles
- make chicken pies! (more about this later)
- a tomato or two will add a nice colour and flavour to the stock
- if you’ve got a bunch of parsley handy, then throw in the stalks
- the leaves from the celery will also contribute to the flavour
- more garlic won’t hurt
- leeks are good as well
- you can do this with the grisly remains of a roast chicken if you just want stock
- sometimes you can get trays of chicken wings on the cheap: these are good for the stockpot (again, you want free range, as factory farmed chicken yields very unpleasant stock)