A Chicken in Every Pot

…or what to do when swiney’s got you down.

I’ve been on a mostly liquid diet for the past several days–chicken soup, lentil-garlic soup, split pea soup, curried squash soup–plus broth and tea and juice and water (and a few honey-whiskey-lemon toddies before bed).  Frankly, I’m a bit tired of it.  The body aches are gone, but the aftermath of the flu lingers.

So, going off some inspiration from yesterday’s Splendid Table, I decided to take one of Nate’s hens out of the freezer and do some braising.  Hens that are layed out may be too tough for quick cooking methods, but they are incredibly flavorful if you cook them slowly and gently.

If you know someone who raises a fair number of chickens, you might be able to get a “stewing hen” for a better price per pound than a young broiler because most people are looking for young and tender chickens.  The old gal can be very tender, too, if you treat her right.

I thawed my chicken in cold water in the sink, patted her dry, then browned her in my big Dutch oven with some EVOO.  Once she was browned, I took her out and plated her, and poured a couple cups of a not-too-spendy white white in the bottom of the pot.

Then I halved some leeks and laid them in the bottom with the wine and fat, and I chopped some parsnips and celeriac to throw in as well, and a couple smashed cloves of garlic.  I threw a couple half-slices of bacon on top for the bird to sit on, and I rubbed the chicken all over with salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, and celery seed.

A couple more half-slices of bacon went in the cavity and on top of the bird, and then I placed her on top of the veggies and put the top on the Dutch oven with a crack open to expel steam.  She went in a very low oven (I did 250, but I should have gone down to 200) for a few hours with a few bastings, until she started to come all apart.

For a side dish, I boiled some Yukon Golds (about 4 medium), and then I mashed them with some of the roasted parnsips and celeriac scooped from the pot.  Since there was plenty of fat clinging to the pot veggies, I didn’t add any butter–just a little milk and a grating of nutmeg.

The breast was a little dry still–I think it would have been better cooked just a little lower or with the bacon slipped under the skin–but the bulk of the bird was juicy and incredibly flavorful.  If you don’t have a big enough Dutch oven, you could tent a pot (leave a little steam vent, so the bird doesn’t boil) or cut the bird in pieces.

H is a big fan of these kinds of traditional dinners–roast bird and the like with some fixin’s.  I made a gravy with some of the fat from the pot and a little more wine and broth–that always makes it special.

Now that dinner is over and the bird is taken apart, you can probably guess what I’m back to.  I scraped all the good stuff out of the Dutch oven, threw all the bones and leftover veggies in a new pot with a smidgen of vinegar (to draw the minerals out) and covered it all with water.

By tomorrow, I should have a great stock for yet another soup.  I’m not out of the swine flu woods yet, after all.

Local ingredients: chicken, bacon, leeks, parsnips, celeriac, potatoes, garlic, milk.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by joelie hicks on November 16, 2009 at 10:25 am

    i get ‘spent hens’ for about a dollar a bird, because i help with the butchering. usually i cut them up and make broth out of the backs and necks, freeze the breasts for stir fry and can the legs and thighs.
    It is nice to be able to open a jar and make a chicken pot pie. For the crust i use local lard, it is win/win and tasty to boot!

  2. Posted by flyingtomato on November 16, 2009 at 11:33 am

    I loooove the lard crust. That’s my next local animal product finding mission.

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