This is an old French solution to a chicken's dark meat needing much more time to cook while agonizing over the destruction of its white meat. This method is pretty old-school, and complicated, but it's an example of how food commanded more attention of old and required serious mastery—as compared to the slip-shod, fast food we settle for today. The result isn't a sodden muck of chicken halfway to stock, but a perfectly moist, flavorful bird in its dark and white meat as well as crispy brown skin.
This could be done modernly sous-vide, but it would have to be redesigned slightly. This recipe is so far a research project. Adapting to sous-vide comes next.
2-4 persons, depending on whether the bird is to be served in halves or quarters.
|1 large||chicken, about 4 lbs|
|2 whole||garlic heads|
|3 quarts||chicken stock|
|—||sea salt and coarsely ground pepper|
|4 oz||butter, melted|
|1 tbsp||white-wine vinegar|
1. Remove the chicken's wishbone. This is an essential first step in all bird preparations, including Thanksgiving turkeys; it makes it easier to keep the breast intact when carving. To find the bone, pull back the skin around the front of the bird and look for the inverted "V" above the neck. Slide your knife down one stem of the "V" and then turn it sharply inward. The stem should snap free. Repeat on the other side. Work the top of the "V" loose with your fingers or (very carefully) with a knife. Save the bone for a wish tug-of-war after dinner.
2. If you intend to save the stock afterward, blanch the bird first to render the blood. (Otherwise, it will coagulate and muddy the stock.) Put chicken in pot and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, remove bird instantly, and then ice it to stop the cooking. Discard blanching liquid.
3. Cut garlic bulbs in half, crosswise, and stuff them into the bird's cavity along with rosemary and thyme.
4. Truss the bird. In a poach-and-roast preparation, trussing—closing up the bird's cavity and binding its extremities against the body, with string—serves no practical purpose. But, because of the æsthetically unpleasing transformation that occurs once the poaching commences—the extremities of the untrussed bird go perpendicular, as if the creature were suddenly in flight, and there is nothing you can do to make them flap back down again. Moreover, we'll be going into the oven where both the stuffing and the trussing will serve to protect the cavity from becoming a sort of little oven itself, heating up the breastbone and overcooking the bird from the inside.
5. Add bird to the pot and fill with chicken stock, reserving 1 tbsp for basting. If there is not enough stock to cover, add water. Place pot over an initial high heat. Never allow the liquid to boil. As its temperature increases, gradually reduce the heat until it approaches 154°, at which point your burner should be at its lowest setting. For poaching, a temperature between 154° and 162° is acceptable. Our target temperature is only around two-thirds of the way toward boiling.) The cooking liquid is not even simmering, there are no bubbles. (You can see why it's reminiscent of sous-vide.) There is a wisp of a vapor moving almost imperceptibly across the surface of the stock. The temperature will fluctuate slightly at first. Until it stabilizes, monitor the pot. It helps to have ice cubes at the ready for dropping in urgently just in case.
6. Poach for 35 minutes, then begin checking the bird's temperature—both the legs, by inserting a thermometer inside the inner thigh, and the breast, by poking into the meaty front. (This step goes south for sous-vide since piercing the bag is a disaster; it works differently.) Once the bird reaches the same temperature as the cooking liquid, continue cooking for another 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken and allowing for possible fluctuations in the temperature. (The FDA recommends cooking chicken to 165°, a temperature that will dry out the breast. Slow-poaching is safe at lower temperatures, as is sous-vide.) Remove chicken from the poaching liquid. If serving later, chill and refrigerate. If serving right away, allow bird to rest and cool for at least 20 minutes.
7. Place a roasting tray in the oven and heat it to 450°.
8. Prepare the basting liquid: in a small saucepan, melt butter, then add sugar, vinegar, and a tablespoon of chicken stock. Baste the bird with some of the liquid and sprinkle the skin with sea salt.
9. Place the bird on the roasting tray in the preheated oven. After 5 minutes, baste. After another 5 minutes, baste again, and reduce the oven temperature to 350°. Cook for another 15 to 25 minutes, basting every 5 minutes. When the skin turns golden brown, remove it from the oven. (The objective is to brown the skin and reheat the chicken without cooking it further.) Remove the bird, but do not turn off the oven.
10. Put a tray in the hot oven. Let the bird rest for 10 minutes, then carve. It is not unusual for the meat nearest the breastbone or thigh to be a little pink. This is fixable. (What is not fixable is overcooking.) Splash olive oil on the tray in the oven and place the undercooked piece of meat on it, pink side down. Check after 2 to 3 minutes.
Serve alongside a rice pilaf made with the poaching liquid.