I just realized our kitchen calendar was still on August and flipped it over, revealing the stereotypical picture of golden hued oak trees and a dilapidated barn that always accompanies September. Ugh… Here on the Westcoast September would be more accurately represented by a grey sheet of rain.
Yep, autumn has come just like it always does; like a switch is flipped, the sun just surrenders and the rains begin like the final act of Seven Samurai… And as usual most of my friends, family and co-workers are getting sick.
So the calendar goes back up on the wall, I fire up a big pot on the stove and pull one of my secret weapons against autumn depression from the freezer: Master Stock! I know it sounds like Master Chief’s little brother or a particularly corny GI Joe villain, but it’s not. It’s a broth made from simmering a whole chicken with Asian aromatics and then, over the course of many uses and multiple chickens it condenses into a powerful, gelatinous flavour bomb for use in soups, stews and sauces.
This time the master stock is coming out of its cryo-sleep to add its unique umami umph to a poached chicken dish. It’s one I’ve cobbled together from a gang of Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian recipes that I’ve encountered over the years and refined until it’s become a household staple.
The first recipe that caught my eye was a Hainanese Chicken and Rice recipe from a long-defunct Malaysian food blog that opened my eyes to the possibilities of poaching chicken for both meat and broth. Later, after watching a Munchies episode about Mission Street Food I learned that Koreans use a similar technique when making the soothing Samgyetang. Finally I dove deep into the White Cut Chicken of Guangdong and especially Canton and melded all that I’d learned into this one, simple to execute dish.
Basically you simmer a chicken until it’s just cooked through and has released all its fat into the cooking broth and then pull it out and either use the broth to finish the chopped chicken in a bowl (great for those of us under the weather) or use it to cook some accompanying rice. Either way, tender chicken and soul-satisfying flavour always ensues.
So first off, we should set you up with a Master Stock Starter.
The easiest way to kick off a master stock is to toss a pound and a half (approx. 700g) of chicken’s feet (yes, you can still buy those!) into a large stockpot with a large, halved white onion, two cleaned leeks, a couple thumbs of ginger, four garlic cloves and one or two star anise pods. Cover with water and simmer for four hours while constantly skimming any impurities that rise to the surface. Strain out the solids and chill the remaining liquid. Pop that wobbly broth into a container and keep it in the freezer until it’s needed to assassinate someone… Winter Solider-style!
By day (when it’s heated up) it’s a powerful ramen-esque chicken stock with a hint of middle kingdom mystery, by night (sent back to the fridge or freezer) it reverts to a gelatinous blob. As long as it’s brought to a boil within an hour of de-frosting and returned to a below room temperature within two hours of re-heating and then re-frozen, it’s not a health concern. I’ve heard of some Chinese restaurants keeping them for decades!
Poached Chicken and Rice (Makes 6-8 Servings)
- 3 ¼ lb. (1 ½ kg) Free-Range Chicken, cleaned, guts removed and trimmed of excess fat)
- 1 ½ Tbls. (6g) Kosher or Himalayan Pink salt
- 8 Cups (2 litres) Water
- 8 Cups (2 Litres) Master Stock
- 1 ¼ oz. (50g) Thumb of Fresh Ginger (sliced lengthwise)
- 3 Large Garlic Cloves (25g)
- 6 Stalks of Green Onion (60g, sliced in half)
- 4 Star Anise pods (3g)
- 2 cups (500g) Short Grain Rice (washed three times in cold water and drained to remove excess starch and impurities)
- Carefully rub the surface of the chicken inside and out with a handful of salt to remove impurities and smooth out the bumps on the skin of the breasts and legs. Cover and set the chicken aside at room temperature while you get the poaching stock rolling.
- Bring the water and master stock up to a boil over high heat in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Set up a small ladle in a bath of lukewarm water beside your pot and use it to skim off any impurities that might still be hiding in your initial stock. Once the broth gets to a rolling boil it’s time to dunk that chicken!
- Stuff the chicken cavity with ginger, garlic, onions ‘n star anise and using a pair of long-handled tongs carefully (oh, so freakin carefully) dip the chicken into the pot without splashing or tearing the skin. Don’t worry if the stuffing falls out or floats away… It’s all just flavour.
- Wait for the broth to return to a boil before slapping the lid on and reducing the heat to low. Simmer that chicken on low for apporx 35 minutes or until it’s cooked through. If you want to check the chicken, carefully remove it from the broth onto a waiting deep pan (watch out for hot broth hidden in the cavity!) and insert a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh. If it comes out hot and the juices run clear you are good to go.
- Remove the cooked chicken from the broth and plop it into a deep pan with a lid. Pour 2 cups of the broth over the chicken to keep it warm while the rice cooks. Skim any impurities from the surface of the broth and fine strain it into a large bowl. Combine 2 ¼ cups of the broth with your rice in a conventional rice cooker and cook on high for about 30 minutes. Immediately chill the remaining broth over an ice bath to get it down below room temperature as fast as possible. It will be your new master stock.
- Discard any of the aromatics still hiding in the chicken’s cavity and chop that bird into as many pieces as you like. Serve over rice with a bit of the reserved broth mixed with light soy sauce and chilli oil. Garnish with chopped green onions.
Music To Poach Chicken To:
65daysofstatic – No Man’s Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe