A chicken that is slow-roasted in the morning, left to cool, and eaten cold at lunch time can be a true treat. Kept until the next day, it is just a cold chicken. Summer cooking implies a sense of immediacy, a capacity to capture the essence of a fleeting moment.
Summer, Elizabeth David
Clear your mind of all mundane thought and you will be able to find coolness.
Chado the Way of Tea, Sasaki Sanmi
Cooking in the indolent season. Light, cool, bright, crisp, all perfect for summer fare. But you still have appetite. Summer food needs to entice, but also to satisfy. Summer is the season to linger…over a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a meal….leisurely time spent with friends and lovers.
What techniques are in the cook’s arsenal to prepare summer food? There is a classic Chinese cooking method for chicken that is perfect. When cooking a whole bird, “white cut chicken” has the added advantage of adding the least amount of heat to the kitchen. The meat is incredibly moist and tender with a silky texture and clean flavor. This is NOT what you usually expect of poached chicken.
Instructions for White Cut Chicken
Use a pot large enough to hold the whole chicken, covered by several inches of water. For a Mediterranean preparation, I add salt and some combination of onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf or thyme. With Asian preparations, for the aromatics I use slices of ginger, bruised lemongrass stalks, shallots or green onions. In a pinch you can always make do with just salted water for any style preparation. Put a metal spoon in the cavity of the chicken to help conduct heat to the center of the bird.
For a three to four-pound chicken, cover the bird with water, add salt and aromatics and bring the pot to the boil. Then cover the pot, remove it from the heat and let the chicken sit undisturbed for an hour. At that point, check to see if the bird is correctly cooked by piercing the joint between the drumstick and the thigh. If the juices run clear, the chicken is done. If it is not, bring the liquid to a boil again, turn off the heat and let it stand, covered for another 30 minutes.
Lift the chicken out of the cooking water into a colander to cool. While the chicken sits in a colander in the sink, I often cover it with ice. This quickly stops the cooking process and also tightens the skin. Save the cooking liquid for a light stock, which you can further enrich by simmering it with the bones that remain after you have used the meat for a salad or other preparation.
For a four-pound plus chicken, when the water comes to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer for 30 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let it stand, covered for another 30 minutes. At that point, test for doneness.
You can prepare individual legs or breasts like this, shortening the cooking time even further, but the texture is at the absolute best when you cook the whole bird. When using this traditional technique, the cook is not restricted to Asian flavors. The meat is fantastic pulled off the bone and used in any style of salad or recipe that calls for poached chicken.