But for cooking times, a poule-au-pot is prepared like a pot-au-feu, the hen or chicken being added an hour or so after the beef. The chicken is sometimes stuffed, but the stuffing (farce—or, in the southwest, farci), delicious in itself, adds neither to the quality of the chicken nor to that of the bouillon. If a stuffing is to be part of the garnish, it seems best to stuff a cabbage and braise it apart in a few ladles of fatty broth skimmed from the pot, preserving the chicken bouillon both from the cabbage onslaught and the confusing flavors of the stuffing. Furthermore, a platter with a hen surrounded by pot-au-feu cuts of beef, another crowned with a whole stuffed cabbage escorted by the vegetables from the pot, is an impressive sight and a heartening experience.
An unstuffed chicken is often accompanied by a pilaf cooked in part of the chicken broth and a sauce suprême (chicken velouté reduced with more of the broth, cream added, and finished with cream and butter—an egg-yolk binding will transform it into an allemande or a parisienne), but one can, then, no longer take the same pleasure in the broth and the boiled vegetables.
Sometimes the bird is simply covered with water, brought to a boil, vegetables and bouquet added, and simmered until done. That is good agrestic fare, but the soup tends to be a bit lightweight. An old hen, sacrificed because of a diminished egg output, may take up to 3 hours to cook and will lend a fine flavor to the bouillon but one should not expect total satisfaction from the flesh. A young chicken (American fryers and French poulets à rôtir are killed at from 6 to 8 weeks) and, in particular, a commercially raised young chicken will lend little beyond a bit of gelatin to the bouillon and will, itself, have no taste—it will be cooked in ½ hour. A hen about 1 year old is ideal and should require no more than 1½ hours.
It is a Sunday meal and, traditionally, the bouillon serves throughout the week as a base for the evening soup or as stock.
Stock, meat jelly or aspic, bouillon, and consommé differ only in that: (1) Especially gelatinous cuts and bones are usually avoided in the preparation of bouillon or consommé, the quantity of gelatin essential to the structure of a stock’s derivative silken sauces and to the physical integrity of an aspic troubling the clear definition of bouillon’s flavor; (2) consommé is clarified (cooked for an hour with a paste of egg white and finely chopped lean beef, the albumen draining all solids in suspension from the liquid, to mark it with discrete sparkling transparency).
The slightest trace of fat on the surface of a consommé would constitute an offense to the world of hierarchical formal service and high social precepts that it so neatly symbolizes, whereas, a few glistening and anodyne pearls of fat on a bouillon’s surface, supported by fragrant effluence, dispel tensions, transforming social contact into human communion. But the crystalline consommé’s world now belongs increasingly to the realm of Proustian recall, the tiny quenelles and royales, the cocks’ combs, truffle juliènne, and plovers’ eggs that have garnished it, permitting it to assume a thousand denominations, having been relegated to gastronomic literature; and clarification is considered archaic in most professional kitchens (if cooking methods are respected, the bouillon will be sufficiently clear and of a warmer and deeper cast than a clarified consommé). It has never been current practice in home kitchens where leftover pot-au-feu or poule-au-pot broth, with or without the sliced leftover vegetables, may, when not accompanied by the recurrent dried crusts, be garnished with any of a variety of pastas, rice, tapioca, stuffed braised cabbage leaves, rolled and slivered crêpes, beaten egg threaded through a sieve into the simmering broth. Freshly cooked vegetables, diced or in juliènne, may also be added, or a handful of fresh peas, or one of shredded sorrel . . .