When you hear the words “boiled dinner,” chances are good that the image that springs to mind is one of a heavy cut of beef, surrounded by a bevy of mealy, overcooked root vegetables. It’s something best eaten in the deep winter, when the nights are long and bone-chilling.
However, I’m about to suggest a springtime take on the boiled dinner for this month’s entry in the Whole Chicken Project. A gently poached and cooled bird, served with blanched asparagus, boiled new potatoes, and a garlic and basil mayonnaise. It’s a meal – one that doesn’t require multiple hours of cooking and, because every component is just as good served chilled as it is warm, all the work can easily be done early in the day.
It’s the perfect thing for a family supper, especially on very busy days. It’s also great for small dinner parties, because everything can be done ahead of time (it’s a boon for those of us who are always running late). I do like to add some crusty bread and a little green salad when I’m serving it as party fare. It fills out the meal and makes it feel abundant.
Another thing that makes this technique so useful for those of us who like to cook whole chickens is that you actually end up getting multiple ingredients from a single bird. Because you simmer it in a large pot of water for about an hour, you wind up with several quarts of gorgeously flavored broth that can be used in any number of ways.
I like to use some for a quick batch of chicken soup, but it’s also good for cooking whole grains. If you have a large freezer, you could even save all the liquid and use it the next time you poach a bird. You get amazing flavor that way.
A word about homemade mayonnaise. It is truly not as hard as we’ve been led to believe. I often use an immersion blender, though some swear by food processors or just a sturdy whisk. It’s about finding the technique that works best for you. If your mayo is thin and runny, separate another egg yolk and slowly whisk the broken mayo into the fresh yolk. It always does the trick for me.
Poached Whole Chicken
1 chicken, approximately 3½ to 4 pounds
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and gently crushed
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1-2 sprigs fresh herbs (dill, parsley, tarragon, or sage are all good choices)
Place chicken in a large pot. Cover with water and add garlic, sea salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, and herbs. Set on stove over medium-high heat. Cover and bring pot to a boil and reduce heat, so that you maintain a gentle simmer.
Cook for 45 to 65 minutes, until the chicken is quite loose in the joints and the internal temperature reads 165°F or higher. Remove chicken from the pot and set it on a plate to cool. Once it is cool enough to handle, it can be served, or covered and refrigerated.
Blanched Asparagus and Boiled New Potatoes
I tend to use the same pot of water for both the asparagus and potatoes, as it saves on time and pot washing. I always estimate 1 pound of each for every two people I’m serving. Here’s how I do it.
Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a low, wide pot. Add a generous teaspoon of sea salt to the water. Lower trimmed asparagus spears into the pot. Boil for 3-4 minutes, until the asparagus is a deep green. Remove spears from water, place in a colander and rinse with cold water.
Bring the water back to a rolling boil and add potatoes. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until they are fork-tender. Remove from water and let cool.
Garlic and Basil Mayonnaise
2 egg yolks
½ lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup sunflower oil
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced basil
2 garlic cloves, crushed or pressed
Fill the bowl you’re planning to whisk the eggs in with hot tap water and place the eggs in it (room temperature eggs should help prevent your mayonnaise from breaking). Let them sit for about 10 minutes.
Remove the eggs, empty the bowl and dry it well. Separate the eggs, stashing the whites in the fridge or freezer for future use and putting the yolks in the bowl.
Add the lemon juice, mustard, and salt and begin whisking. After 30 seconds or so, start adding the sunflower oil drop by tiny drop, making sure that each drop is incorporated prior to adding the next one. Keep going like this until it begins to look recognizably like mayonnaise and you have approximately 2-3 tablespoons in the bowl. You can begin to add the oil in slightly larger quantities, but still take it slow.
Once all the oil is incorporated, stir in the basil and garlic. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
If the mayo breaks, try adding a few drops of boiling water and then whisk vigorously. If that doesn’t work, separate another egg and put the yolk in another bowl. Whisk it like you did the initial egg yolks and then slowly work the broken mayo into the yolk. Add a bit more oil to get it to the right consistency.