Your Zaidie's Chicken-in-a-Pot
By Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden Frum
Danielle’s husband, David, had a great-grandfather, Louis Hirschowitz, who ate the same meal for dinner every day throughout his adult life: boiled chicken with a potato and celery. He lived to be 97 years old, kept every hair on his head, and retained all of his faculties to the very end. When it was occasionally suggested to him that he try to eat something different, he would reply, “If it was any good, I would have tried it already.”
Once you make our version of this traditional Polish dish, you may be inclined to agree with Great-Grandfather Hirschowitz, who was, of course, a Polish Jew. Whole chickens are boiled – or let’s say poached, because it sounds better – with vegetables as if for chicken soup. But before the meat falls apart, it is rescued from the now delicious, rich broth. The rubbery skin is removed, and the pieces carved into elegant, juicy portions. These are served over rice cooked in the same broth, and dressed up with a very light, creamy sauce scented with lemon.
This is a wonderful recipe if you are feeling under the weather – more substantial than chicken soup, but with the same comforting effects. It also makes for a lovely weeknight casserole enjoyed equally by nostalgic adults and hungry children.
Serves 6-8.2 whole chickens (about 3.5 lbs each)
2 medium carrots
1 medium parsnip
1 large onion, peeled and halved
½ large celery root, peeled and cut roughly in quarters
1 leek (white part only), halved and rinsed
Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup basmati rice (or the rice you prefer)
2 tbs corn starch
Grated zest and juice of ½ lemon
2 egg yolks
Rinse the chickens and pat dry. Place in a soup pot or Dutch oven large enough to accommodate both chicken and the vegetables (we use a very big one, about 7 quarts).
Trim the carrots and parsnip: you don’t need to peel them (unless, like some, you wish to include these later in the casserole, in which case do peel them). Cut each one into a few chunks. Add all the vegetables, along with the parsley and a few grinds of pepper to the pot. Add just enough cold water to cover the chickens. Bring to a boil and then immediately turn down the heat.
Cook the chicken and vegetables at a gentle simmer, uncovered, for about 1.5 hours, or until the chicken feels tender when pierced with a fork, but is not yet falling apart. Remove to a platter and keep warm.
Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl, pressing on the vegetables to extract all their juices. Discard the vegetables (or, if you are keeping the carrots and parsnips for the casserole, chop these into bite-size pieces).
Skim the broth and use it to cook the rice in a medium saucepan according to the package directions (different types of rice will vary in their cooking times).
While the rice is cooking, carve the chicken into serving pieces (quarters or eights, whatever you prefer, and remove the skin as you go, unless rubbery boiled skin is your thing). You can keep the bones in or separate them from the meat, according to your own preference. You just want to keep the chicken in large pieces – not shredded or in chunks.
Skim and pour another 2 cups of broth back into the now empty soup pot. (Any remaining broth can be frozen for future use.) Bring the broth to a boil, and reduce the heat to medium. Mix a few tablespoons of the broth with the corn starch in a separate, small bowl and whisk into broth so it thickens. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Return the chicken pieces (and vegetables if you are using them) to the pot and simmer gently for another 10 minutes or so. Add a healthy pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Check the seasoning and correct if necessary.
When the rice is ready, spread out on a large serving platter and place the carved chicken pieces on top. Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk slowly into the sauce, bit by bit, so the eggs don’t curdle and the sauce is creamily thick.
Pour the sauce over the top of the assembled casserole (or drizzle a little of the sauce and pass separately) and serve immediately.
Adapted from “From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food.” Copyright 2012 by Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden Frum. Chronicle Books.