My mother was not a cook. Having grown up in residential hotels, she never spent any length of time in a kitchen, let alone cooking in one. When she married after the war (WWII that is), it allegedly took her several months before she dared to make jello ... or so the family story goes, and keep in mind she entered the kitchen to cook in earnest in the 1950s - enough said?
Mother's method for cooking nearly everything was on a cookie sheet. Baked chicken breasts? Place chicken on a cookie sheet, cook in a 350℉ oven for one hour - serve. Pork chops? Brown the pork chops in a hot skillet, place chops on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350℉ oven for one hour and serve, preferably with lots of applesauce. Carrots came in a bag from the freezer, peas, green beans, and corn came from a can, and potatoes and fish were nearly always in the shape of a stick.
When dinner was a steak or hamburgers, Mother used the broiler to near disastrous results. Almost without fail, they would catch fire - one which she would extinguish by smothering it with a liberal amount of table salt. This is probably the source of one of the only cooking lessons I remember getting from my mother and that was - always listen to what's cooking! It may also be the reason why my father placed a small hibachi-like grill in the fireplace where he would charcoal grill these meats to tasty perfection.
If and when we needed poached chicken for chicken salad and casseroles, the process was simple. Drop chicken breasts into boiling salted water and let them simmer for nearly an hour. Allow them to cool, remove the skin and bones, cut the meat into bite-size pieces and dress liberally with anything moist because the result was what one should have expected - dry, rubbery chicken meat. Please don't get me wrong, we didn't ever starve but let's just say the cuisine was simple. The result of this culinary experience? All of her daughters can cook - some liking it more than others.
These days, as most of you know, I have an extensive library of cookbooks, which are the sources of my ongoing culinary education and many a wonderful meal. I do have favorite authors and teachers including Patricia Wells, Ina Garten and Bobby Flay. Patricia came out with a new cookbook last spring called Salad As A Meal in which there's a divine recipe for Poached Chicken Breasts. Peter and I both reveled in how moist and flavorful the meat was and added it to many of our summer salads. One batch I kept covered in the stock in the refrigerator for several days before using and when I removed it I just had to take this picture ... to me, it looked like art.
1 quart Homemade Chicken Stock
1 onion, quartered (do not peel)
Several fresh tarragon leaves
Several fresh thyme sprigs
1 celery rib or several celery leaves, chopped
2 fresh or dry bay leaves
6 whole peppercorns
4 plump, moist garlic cloves, peeled and halved
6 fresh parsley sprigs
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (each about 8 ounces)
- In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients except the chicken. Cover, bring to a simmer; simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.
- Carefully slip the chicken breasts into the stock, making sure they are fully covered by the liquid. Cover and simmer for 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat (keeping it covered), and let the chick cool in the stock for 1 hour.
- The chicken can be used immediately or refrigerated, covered in stock. The stock can be strained and used to prepare chicken soup or reduced to use for a sauce. (Store the chicken in an airtight container in the stock in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
Try this, I think you'll adopt this as your recipe of choice for poached chicken going forward.