The Cantonese have a technique for cooking a whole chicken by briefly simmering then steeping it awhile to finish the cooking. In Chinese, it’s called “white cut chicken,” a visually apt description. It’s a favorite method for cooking a whole chicken whose meat is to be used in soups and mainly-vegetable compositions. Here, the skin doesn’t sizzle and crisp. Instead, it softens, almost melts away. It’s also different from poaching, which employs steady low heat to maintain a simmer throughout the cooking. It’s the energy-saving, eco-friendly, easy-on-the-chef method of quick simmering followed by lengthy off-the-heat steeping that led me to explore new horizons for cooking a whole chicken.
Turns out, it’s an excellent technique for making a succulent basic protein suitable for any number of polyglot preparations. Here are some suggestions for what to do with steeped chicken:
-As chicken salad, eastern-style with peanut sauce or Chinese chicken salad-style with cucumber, lettuce, and crispy mei fun noodles; or western-style, plain to plump up a Caesar salad or curried w/almonds, turmeric, and mayo to serve on lettuce or in a sandwich.
-Sandwiches are a particularly appealing way to employ “white cut chicken” meat. The sandwich can be deli-style, banh mi-style, taco/burrito-style. Or, if you’re not a bread eater, wrap the chicken Southeast Asian-style in lettuce leaves.
-Vary the aromatics for cooking the chicken to suit how you would ultimately like to use the broth. For instance, use thyme and yellow or white onion if you would like to veer in a Mediterranean direction, use leek instead of scallion for a more north European taste.
Serves 6 to many, depending on use
1 whole fryer chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
10 cups or so filtered water, enough to completely cover the chicken in the pot
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2-inch thick piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled
1 scallion, cut crosswise into thirds
1. Rinse the chicken inside and out and place it breast side up in a large pot. Add the salt, ginger, scallion, and enough water to cover the breast completely. Partially cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat (this will take about 25 minutes). Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover all the way, and cook for 10 minutes.
2. Turn off the heat and let the chicken rest in the pot, still covered, until it and the liquid are at room temperature, about 2 hours.
3. Lift the chicken out of the broth and transfer it to a cutting board. Strain and save the broth separately. With your hands, pull away and discard the skin from the chicken. Pull the meat off the bones. Use right away or refrigerate for up to 2 days.
Notes: 1) If the chicken bones appear red-tinged, that’s a normal outcome of the steeping technique. Chinese diners enjoy it; America diners may not. You can simmer the chicken 15 minutes longer before turning off the heat if you prefer white bones.
2) Many recipes say to “shock” the chicken in ice water to cool it down after the end of cooking time. Chefs seem to be divided on the topic; I don’t find it necessary.
3) It is best to serve the chicken without reheating it, which causes the flesh to lose texture and savor.