techniques

Poaching Chicken - Can't Stand the Heat? Stay in the Kitchen! Cool Tips for Dog Days

Even though our June and August weather seems to have flipped this year, we're still heading into another warm stretch. When the temperatures rise, even avid cooks need a break. But don't switch from home cooking to takeout. Switch to cooler, smarter ways to cook. One of my favorite techniques for cooking chicken breasts is to poach them.

How to Make Poached Chicken

Poaching is a classic technique that I love for summer. It's easy, it's inexpensive and you can get a lot of mileage out of a little cooking.

Poaching Chicken mise

 

Poaching is a moist-heat cooking method in which you simmer the protein (here, chicken) in aromatics and water (or a combo of wine, water, broth) to cook it gently and infuse it with flavor. The advantages of poaching include:

  1. No need to turn on the oven (in fact, you can even poach in the microwave!)
  2. No added fat
  3. It's a cook once-eat twice (or three times) method of cooking.
  4. You can produce a nice fragrant broth from the remains of poaching liquid and bones.

You can vary the aromatics used to infuse the chicken breast with various flavor profiles (use ginger and five spice for Asian applications, for example.)

Technique

  1. Start with organic chicken (unless of course you enjoy a little arsenic with your meal) - choose your aromatics and spices. Today I used carrots, celery onion, a wedge of lemon, some thyme, parsley and about a dozen peppercorns, an allspice berry and some herbs de Provence.
  2. Place all the ingredients in a pot just large enough to hold them, cover with your choice of liquid (today I forgot Vermouth so we have straight water).
  3. Bring pot to a bare simmer, not a boil as this will toughen the meat. Cover with a circle of parchment paper (see below) to keep the chicken submerged in the flavorful liquid.
  4. Simmer for about 15 minutes for two large split breasts. Check the temp of the chicken if you are unsure.
  5. Remove from heat and let cool in the liquid, in a heat proof bowl. (Food safety note: we don't want to create a giant petri dish for bacterial growth so it's best to cool only partially on the counter then refrigerate.
  6. Separate your moist, tender poached chicken from the bones, reserve bones for stock.

 

How to cut parchment paper for poaching

parchment

 

If you don't have parchment paper you can place a small saucer atop the aromatics and chicken. The idea is to keep the chicken submerged. But really, get some parchment, it will make so many things easier - roasting, cooking en papillote, baking cookies, releasing cakes, etc.

Completed Poached Chicken

Now you have beautiful chicken breast meat to include in your Hatch chile salsa verde tortillas, to include with a chopped salad of fresh farmers' market veggies, or to make lovely chicken salad with homemade mayonnaise.

And you've not even broken a sweat.

 

ABC’s of Saving Summer Produce

We are gorging on summer produce now, dribbling peach juice down our chins and arms, munching fresh green beans (well, everyone except Carlos), zipping through ears and ears of corn, serving fat slices of delicious heirloom tomatoes with everything we can think of and sometimes just eating them all by themselves in their ripe, naked glory. I saw the first tiny red and gold Maple leaf today and it reminded me not to wait too long to get this post done. Here are a few tips to keep our affair with summer produce if not hot, at least simmering vigorously into the cooler months to come. How long is up to you and will depend on both will power and freezer/shelf space.

Extending seasonal eats is as easy as A, B, C, F.

A - Acquire

B - Blanch

C - Can

(D Devour, E Enjoy...what, you didn't think I could spell?)

F - Freeze

A few simple steps will go a long way toward some stellar meals in the midst of winter.

Basil like this will soon be a distant memory - but there are ways to extend the seasonal eats.

Basil

Acquire

For most of your recipes, you should choose the produce free of blemishes and bruises. Skins should tight, weight should feel good in your hand. Corn silks should be damp - older silks mean older corn. Basil should be pre-blossom stage as the flowering basil will be a bit more bitter than those still in its prime. With heirloom tomatoes you may have to ask the farmer which varieties are at peak. Some of the large ruffly tomatoes (like pleated Zapotecs) are good for stuffing and won’t feel heavy. Green Zebras are more firm than Carbons.

For fruit that may have a blemish here or there, you could muddle them into shrubs or make simple syrups for cocktails and homemade sodas.

Tip: Chat with your farmer about what’s best that day. Ask for a sample.

Blanch

Blanching is a technique that will keep your vegetables bright and crisp. You’re simply dropping them into boiling water, then quickly moving them to a large bowl of ice water to arrest the cooking. Your corn will stay more sweet, beans more green.

  • Tip: Even basil stays bright green as will your pesto. Thanks to Vivian Bauquet Farre for this tip!
  • Tip: Blanch corn on the cob then cut off the cob and freeze for future use. If you’re using it right away, no blanching is necessary. To easily cut off the cob, stand an ear on its stem end in the middle of a large wide bowl. Cut down with a knife and the kernels will fall into the bowl.
  • Tip: Save fresh naked cobs to make a stock for future corn dishes, to make crackers, as a base for chowder. Cover with cold water, add a bay leaf and a few peppercorns. Simmer gently until the cobs have become pale. Strained stock can be frozen in cubes or in zip bags flat on a cookie sheet to be easily filed away or stacked in the freezer for that next chowder.

Corn

Can

Sometimes a surfeit of summer goodness is simply not sufficient. What to do to keep this sensual sustainable love affair going strong in the colder months to come? You can preserve food in jars without tons of specialized equipment, though a few items help to do it safely and efficiently. Even if you’re not using a hot water bath and ball jars, you can put food by in freezer containers. So I’m including freezing here. Canning Across America is an excellent site to help you get started (you can even read my Confessions of a Canning Virgin.)

  • Tip: freeze plum tomatoes whole on a half sheet pan then place them in zip top bags. You can then have the individually frozen peak-of-season plum tomatoes to use in colder months. The skins will slip off as they thaw, easy to remove or buzz up.

 

Resources:

Put ‘em Up - a great guide to all sorts of food preservation from freezing, to canning, pickling and more. My friend Sherri Brooks Vinton is on her second (or third?) book now and my copy is stained and stickered where I've marked pages with ball jar labels as I've made them.

Food and Style - is a recipe club and website by Viviane Bauquet Farré. It's gorgeous and chock full of sexy, delicious recipes and wine pairings. You'll be surprised to note several pages in that it's also vegetarian. I got this blanching basil tip from her just recently. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

 

Now, share YOUR favorite tip for saving summer produce...do you can? Freeze? Site or book you go to again and again?