East Bay View (a blog about several things)

now 98% free of substantive content

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Probe able

Right, all non-Hong Sang-Soo movies suck at the moment, so until the festival starts, this is gonna be a food blog.

Every time I've cooked chicken in the past, I've overcooked it to be sure I've killed all the salmonella etc. Even my best chicken meals, like the quite brilliant chicken soup I made for my then-girlfriend when she was sick last winter, resulted in a slightly drier chicken than I would've liked. So I thought I should that instead of boiling, I should poach a chicken. Now, if you're not careful, poaching a whole chicken is an easy way to end up vomiting, and I've already annoyed too many people by doing that this spring break.

So I caught the 51 out to West Berkeley in search of a meat thermometer. Of course, you can't go to Fourth Street without stuffing yourself silly. I arrived in time to eat at misleadingly-named Bette's Oceanview Diner before its 2:30 close.

Bette's has all the standard brunch stuff, and does it well, but I felt like something a little more over-the-top. So I went for the twelve-buck banana rum souffle pancake. I'm not a big pancake fan -- not a big white flour fan -- but Bette's puts a crazy number of egg whites into the mix. The result is something as puffily fluffy as a Care Bear, but still clearly a pancake. Flour fans have been known to go into raptures over this. I thought it was pretty good.

After wandering down to the marina (and feeling glad the dayworker-pickup zones en route existed, though it didn't seem employers were utilising them), I went back to Fourth Street and Sur La Table, where I decided upon a sweet probe thermometer, though I suspect I'll eventually get an instant-read one as well. Time for more face-stuffing: at Tacubaya, I got a five-buck butternut squash tamale. Pretty fancy: the cilantro was a neat touch, the salsa verde very good though it coulda been hotter.

OK, time to poach a chicken. You'll need:
  • a chicken (not too big, maybe four pounds)
  • a bottle of sweetish white wine
  • your broth/stock of choice: I use vegetable broth powder
  • pepper (and salt, if you wish)
Ideally, the wine should cost more than the chicken. I achieved this easily by purchasing the chicken at Grocery Outlet and the wine at Whole Foods.

Now, the efficient thing to do is to chop the chicken up before poaching. But this is for wusses.

Pour yourself a large glass of wine, then tip the rest into a Big Freaking Pot. Pour in enough water so that the chicken will be covered, plus stock and pepper to taste. Heat on high until nearly boiling. This is going to take a while, so keep yourself entertained by sipping on the wine occasionally.

When the liquid is nearly boiling, around 185F, throw in the chicken. You probably underestimated the amount of water required, so put some more in. Keep heating until you're back up to 185F.

Now comes the tortuous bit. You want to keep the water at this temperature, but on a crappy home stove, this'll be impossible. So spend a while fiddling with the heat, gradually turning in an attempt to stop the temperature from rising further. It's better to be a little too hot -- my water was simmering ever so slightly.

Go away and make some sides (I sauteed mushrooms with garlic, shallots and a little half-and-half. Also, I put some bread in the toaster) and a sauce for the chicken (I mixed 2 parts tahini, 1 part water, 1 part yoghurt and some lemon juice and cumin seeds -- in my one concession to health today, no mayo). After the chicken's been cooking for about an hour, check the internal temperature occasionally. Once this is up to 150F, the bacteria are probably dead, but you want to make sure. So turn the heat up and boil for ten minutes, and you're done. (Alpha food nerd Harold McGee does it the other way around -- boil first, then drop the temperature, but on a home stove, I find my order easier.)

The result? The best whole chicken I've ever cooked. It was much more moist than I've ever managed with ordinary boiling. The wine was a positive addition, though not pronounced; two bottles seems excessive, though. The mushrooms were an excellent match. The sauce was rubbish, though.

I'll be eating this for the next couple days. If I get food poisoning, I'll let you know.



Post a Comment

<< Home