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 . . .
Unless the chicken has already been badly mauled and slashed by the butcher, remove the neck by slitting the neck skin on the back side, carefully peeling it loose from the neck, cutting halfway through the neck at the point where it joins the backbone, and twisting it off, thus leaving an intact flap of skin which may be folded across the neck cavity and secured against the back, preventing the loss of valuable juices (and permitting a handsomer presentation). Remove all fat from body cavity. Loosen the skin from the upper part of the breast and remove the wishbone (this should be done with any poultry, poached, braised, or roasted, that is destined to be served whole and carved at table; the breast cannot, otherwise, be carved neatly and rationally): Slit the flesh the length of the two sections of the wishbone with the tip of a small sharp knife, work it loose with tips of thumb and forefinger, cut through the cartilaginous attachments to the breastbone, and gently pull the two branch bones backwards, tearing the summit loose from its attachment.
Truss the chicken (this, too, is not only a question of presentation; trussed compactly, a chicken cooks more evenly): If the feet have not already been removed, pass all parts of them over a flame at the same time that the chicken is singed, blistering the skin. Remove the skin, holding a towel or paper towel in your hand; cut off the “toes” except for the longest, central digit, which should be sectioned at the first joint, removing the claw tip. Cut off the wing tips (the second joint from the tip, leaving only the shoulder section attached to the bird). Fold the neck skin over the back, spreading it, and place the chicken on its back. Use two lengths of kitchen string and an approximately 6-inch trussing needle. Thread the first string, run it through the wing section just below the shoulder joint, the needle brushing the underside of the bone, bring it out through the back and the near edge of the neck flap, return it through the far edge of the neck flap, the back and, identically, through the far wing. Run the string back through the body of the bird, this time through the drumstick, just beneath its connection with the thigh, and tie the two string ends, pulling the strings gently, but tightly, before tying. Repeat the process with the other length of string, piercing this time the lower ends of the wing sections and the drumsticks. At this point, the chicken may be rubbed with lemon juice, if one likes—it is a question of discouraging discoloration during the poaching. If the feet are attached, fold them over the breast and tie a length of string loosely around the girth of the bird to hold them in place.
Place the bird in its pot, pour over warmed stock and water to cover, bring slowly to a boil, skim as for a stock, add the vegetables, the bouquet, the head of garlic, salt (if necessary) and maintain the liquid, lid slightly ajar, at the slightest suggestion of a simmer until the chicken is cooked, tender, 1½ to 3 hours. Skim off the bulk of the fat.
Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage, quarter it, arrange the quarters in a large saucepan, pour over boiling water to cover, and parboil for 10 minutes. Drain, keeping the quarters intact and pressing them gently to rid them of the maximum of liquid, return them to the saucepan, and ladle over enough fatty bouillon from the surface of the pot to barely cover them, pressed well into place. Simmer, covered, until serving (in this case, a bare 1½ hours).
If the potatoes are young, they may, depending on taste, be cooked in their skins, first well washed and scrubbed. Cook them apart in salted water, putting them to cook ½ hour before serving the dish.
Serve first a tureen of the bouillon, crusts on the bottom of each soup plate. Those who wish may sprinkle the bread and broth with Parmesan. Discard garlic and bouquet. Clip and remove strings from chicken and leeks. Serve the chicken and the vegetables on separate platters (the latter interfere with carving). Keep the bouillon at table, pouring a ladle over each serving of meat and vegetables. Some people like to have Dijon mustard and horseradish handy as well as the coarse salt.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Olney. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.