Summertime meals often mean something thrown on the grill – quick and mess-free. But there’s another easy cooking method that doesn’t require much energy, and it’s suited to all seasons: poaching.
Poaching is an often overlooked way of cooking a delicate protein – generally chicken, fish or eggs – that submerges it in a barely simmering liquid (about 160 to 180 degrees); the surface of the liquid shimmers, showing few, if any, bubbles. Up the heat a bit, to about 185 degrees, and you’ve gotten to a simmer, which is the heat level for braising. Crank the heat up even further, and you’ve reached a boil, used for cooking pasta, blanching vegetables and more.
My Great Uncle Yuen, a partner in my family’s Chinese restaurant when I was growing up, did great deal of poaching. He loved poached chicken, which he ate many times each week. He would place a whole chicken into the huge, barely simmering cauldron of chicken stock that was always on the burner, and then would go back to working. A couple of hours later, he would fish out the chicken, set it aside, and then eat it when he could.
If he didn’t have time to take a lunch break, he would wrap up the cooled poached chicken and refrigerate it. Later, he’d bring it out of hiding, chop it up and eat it cold. Uncle Yuen often used hot broth or made a quick sauce to take off the chill.
I haven’t poached a chicken in quite a while until lately, when I realized again how much sense it made. Poaching is easy and doesn’t require much attention. Chicken is relatively inexpensive, and when poached, doesn’t need its skin to remain moist so there is less fat overall. An added plus: Poached chicken can be used in many recipes.
I’ve developed a master recipe for poached chicken that uses ginger-infused water, which eventually becomes an Asian-style broth, but you can also use different flavorings to take the broth in a new direction (see accompanying suggestions).
Besides keeping the chicken moist, poaching allows the chicken to absorb flavor; in return, the chicken contributes its essence to its cooking water.
Once the chicken is cooked, remove the meat from the carcass; the carcass then goes back into the poaching liquid to simmer. Ingredients such as carrots, celery, more onion and herbs can be added to make soup. Or you can keep the broth simple, making it easy to freeze and use in other recipes.
Back in the day, we really were not concerned about how to freeze Uncle Yuen’s leftover poached chicken – because there usually was none left. The only thing we worried about was who would get the last piece.
Playing with flavor
Use your imagination and think outside the box for interesting combination to flavor poaching water. Here are some ideas:
– Bay leaf and oregano
– Cardamom, cinnamon and curry leaves
– Fennel seed and marjoram
– Thyme or rosemary and whole black peppercorns
– Oregano, whole coriander and toasted cumin seed
– Caraway, juniper berries and thyme
– Five-spice and soy sauce
Yield: A 5-pound chicken provides about 2 pounds of cooked, boneless meat, which can be made into several two-person meals.
Sauce: If you want to enjoy the chicken straightaway as it comes out of the pot, serve some of the meat with my version of Uncle Yuen’s chicken sauce: Combine 2 parts double-strength chicken broth with 1 part oyster sauce, a dash of pepper and an optional drop or two of Asian-style toasted sesame seed oil. Garnish with sliced green onion. Serve the chicken with steamed rice and vegetables.
Uses: Breast meat is best used in sandwiches. Cubes of breast or dark meat are good in vegetable salads. Irregularly shaped dark meat is good in stir-fries, pastas and chicken salad.
Storage: Leftover poached chicken should last several days, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator. You can freeze it if you first submerge it in some broth, which helps protect the meat from freezer burn.
by Lynne Char Bennett. Read entire article.