We had a few delectable roasts (volaille de Middleboro, rôti), but in the end, our favorite preparation has been le poule au pot, literally a chicken in a pot.
While the phrase in French denotes a specific dish in the francophone’s gustatory consciousness, it must be said that in English, it really just conjures up a chicken sitting in a pot. (Possibly, as recently as The Great Depression, the phrase “a chicken in every pot” may have brought a specific dish to mind for many Americans, but that’s a topic for future consideration. Just now our lovely local chicken is awaiting cooking.) The common English and American rendering, “a boiled chicken”, just seems insufficient to describe something one would want to make. So, without further dwelling on nomenclature we set out to make a “chicken in the pot” in the American tradition.
I recalled “A Pair of Chickens stuffed, and boiled with cabbage and a piece of lean pork.” which Mrs. E.A. Howland recommended as part of a Thanksgiving spread in 1845. While she didn’t give the exact recipe, it was easy to read between the lines of 211. Stuffing, No.2. (“Take dry pieces of bread or crackers, chop them fine, put in a small piece of butter or a little cream, with sage, pepper, and salt, one egg, and a small quantity of flour, moistened with milk.”), and, 217. To boil a Turkey. (“Prepare and stuff the turkey, the same as for roasting; boil it two hours, with a piece if striped pork, a nice head of cabbage, flat turnips, and potatoes. Serve up with butter gravy.” So that was to be our Middleboro poule au pot (the exact recipe, it turns out, referred to in the early 20th century by Auguste Escoffier as Poularde Bouillie à l’Anglaise – but I’m not going to let him take the wind out of my sails) Best of all, I didn’t have to set foot out of the house to find ingredients, thanks to the Plymouth Indoor Farmers’ Market, all the vegetables were standing by at home; thanks to my strange food-acquisition habits I also happened to have a nice piece of stripy salt pork sitting in brine.
Naturally, even if you and your guests demolish the chicken and stuffing and vegetables, you’ll want to toss the carcass of the chicken back into the stockpot, and simmer it another few hours – low! – to make some fantastic broth you’ll just want to drink by the teacup.
A Chicken stuffed, and boiled with cabbage and a piece of lean pork.
- 1 chunk salt pork, home-salted or store-bought
- 1 onion, peeled and stuck with 2 whole cloves
- 1 large carrot
- 1 celery stalk or some parsley stems
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 egg
- 1½ cups dry bread crumbs or pilot cracker crumbs (or “hard bread” if you shop in Newfoundland)
- 2 tablespoons soft butter or 3 tablespoons cream
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage (or to taste)
- salt, as needed
- freshly ground pepper
- milk, as needed
- 1 large exemplary local chicken, thoroughly rinsed in cold water and patted dry
- 1 nice head of cabbage
- turnips, flat if you can find’em
- fingerling potatoes, peeled
- coarse salt, chopped parsley – optional garnishes
1. Rinse your salt pork well. Place in the bottom of a pot large enough to hold it and the stuffed chicken. Just cover with cold water, bring to a simmer, and then drain the water out. Now fill the pot halfway with water, and add the onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and garlic to the blanched salt pork. Bring slowly to a simmer while you attend to the next steps.
2. In a medium bowl, beat the egg; mix in the crumbs, butter or cream, sage, salt, and pepper. Stir in milk as needed, but keep it on the dry side – easier to handle, and the stuffing gets all the juice it needs as the chicken cooks.
3. Get out a decent-sized, sharp needle, and thread it with strong white thread, doubled and ends knotted together. Stuff the chicken’s body cavity loosely and then perform the surgery to close it as neatly as possible. Repeat with the remainder of the stuffing at the neck end. Take a fathom of kitchen twine, and truss the bird. Think about making as efficient a compact package as possible – the idea is to keep it from falling apart, and to allow you to easily, and safely, pull the chicken out of hot broth later. (Out of the remarkable array of trussing techniques on display on YouTube, few are up to hauling a cooked stuffed bird out of simmering stock. This one is better than most.
4. Lower your trussed chicken into the pot. Let it return slowly to a simmer, lid ajar. Turn the heat as low as possible, and cook around 1½ to 2 hours, scarcely bubbling. (Poke a skewer or skinny knife into the thigh meat. The chicken will go from rubbery to tender when done.) Turn off the heat under the chicken, but keep it covered to keep it hot. Prepare your vegetables. Trim the cabbage and cut into nice wedges, peel your potatoes, and likewise your turnips and if the latter are very large, cut in wedges. Think boiled dinner (oops; there, I said it). Place them all in an appropriate-sized saucepan, and ladle in broth from the chicken pot to just cover. Taste the stock for salt, and adjust, as you bring the vegetables to a simmer until tender (10 to 20 minutes, depending on their size and your taste).
5. Meanwhile heat a deep platter and large soup plates in a low oven. When you are ready to serve, use strong utensils (a slotted spoon is useful) to withdraw the chicken from the broth. Nip off the trussing and zip out the thread that holds in the stuffing. Transfer the salt pork to a cutting board and slice thinly. Arrange it, along with the vegetables, around the chicken. Serve a little of the broth from the vegetables — HOT – on the side. Offer some chopped parsley, freshly ground pepper, and coarse salt as garnishes.
Variations: In her 1796 American Cookery, Amelia Simmons recommended seasoning the stuffing with sweet marjoram and thyme instead of sage (of which she did not much approve), and moistening it with wine instead of milk (of which we very much approve). She also advocates “smothering” fowl in oysters: “when done tender, put it into a deep dish and pour over it a pint of stewed oysters, well buttered and peppered”. Yow – we love that!
The author (left) in 1845 with Mrs. Howland’s ‘A Pair of Chickens
stuffed, and boiled with cabbage and a piece of lean pork’.