I make no apology for revisiting the Theory and Practice of Vertical Cooking, or indeed of bringing chicken back into the equation again. I first explored the issue sometime last year, but the notion of taking one major raw ingredient, cooking it once and then putting it to multiple use is so elegant, so pleasing, so thrifty, that I can't help doing it all over again.
So take one chicken. It has to be a good chicken. In fact, it has to be the very best chicken that your money can buy. That does not necessarily mean it has to be the most expensive chicken, but it stands to reason that it will be more expensive than your average bird. It should have a good, dry, clear skin with a bit of texture to it, not unlike rough linen. The feet, if you get a chance to see them, should be well formed and grown. It should come with its liver - a great indication of the health and robustness of the bird. It should be large and glossy and healthy.
The best that I can buy are from Madgett's Farm, and I get them in the Stroud farmers' market. As far as I am aware, they are nothing special by way of breed, nor are they certified as organic. But they come from tasty genetic stock. They are fed properly and they roam around the greensward near Chepstow, loading up on whatever chickens load up on in the wild, and building up texture and flavour in every molecule. I also like the way that they go in cycles. At the beginning of the cycle they are quite small; by the end, they are the size of mastodons.
Such chickens deserve thought. This one got an unusual degree of attention, as you will see.
All recipes serve four.
Very simple poached chicken
This defies the usual image of chicken as a fine, bronzed beast, skin all golden and glistening. Instead, the chicken is pale and interesting. Its visual pleasure lies in the slices of ivory set beside the brilliant greens and reds of your vegetables, all floating in a pool of liquor the colour of pale amber. Oh, and in the tastes and flavours, too - sharp, clean, clear and individual.
1.5 litres chicken stock
Cut the chicken into seven - that is, two legs, two thighs, two wings, and the breasts in one piece on the breastbone. Just cut away the undercarriage of the bird. Put these pieces into a casserole, the legs, thighs and wings at the bottom, the breasts resting on top. There is a reason for this: the more muscular limbs need more cooking than the breast. Pour in enough cold stock to come about halfway up the bird - as it poaches, this means the legs, thighs and wings will be more thoroughly cooked than the breast. They will be tender and tasty, and the breast succulent and juicy.
Slowly bring up to simmering point, then leave to bubble away gently for 35-40 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the chicken rest in its liquor until you need it. I spooned out some of the stock and used it to cook young carrots, turnips, peas and Little Gem lettuces cut into segments. I added some chopped parsley at the last minute before pouring it over the meat and veg on a serving dish.
Cold chicken salad with cornichon, caper and chive vinaigrette
There was a good bit of that poached chicken left over, and it so happened that a day or so later we were in the mood for a Sunday evening feed. There wasn't enough chicken to pass muster on its own, so I stretched it with the help of lots of green stuff, some leftover potatoes revived by being fried in olive oil, and by cutting the chicken into bite-sized chunks and dressing it with the following.
12 cornichons, finely chopped
2 tbsp salted capers, finely chopped
2 dssp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp cider vinegar
150ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch chives
Put the cornichons and capers in a bowl with the mustard, salt and pepper. Add the vinegar and mix well. Beat in the oil to form an emulsion. Snip in the chives. Add the chicken bits and stir around with your hands to make sure they are well coated. This should be enough dressing for all the green stuff, too.
Chicken soup with mousseline sauce
This recipe is adapted from one by Paul Heathcote in Rhubarb & Black Pudding (Fourth Estate) - boy, that man can cook. The base is the stock in which the chicken was poached.
1 egg yolk
150ml whipping cream
Juice of 1 lemon
1 litre chicken stock
A selection of summer vegetables -peas, broad beans, carrots, radishes and the like
Tarragon and chervil
Beat together the egg yolk and cream. Add the lemon juice and a little salt. Bring the stock to simmering point. Whisk in the eggy mixture. Be careful with the heat at this point: whatever you do, don't boil the soup because that will turn the whole thing into a rather nasty-looking, clotted chicken mess. Add the summer vegetables that you've thoughtfully cooked in advance. Add the herbs - whole leaves in the case of the tarragon, snipped up in the case of the chervil - and serve.
Chicken liver bruschetta
The liver on this bird was particularly plump and firm. It called out to be cooked and eaten, and so it was.
1-2 chicken livers
½ tsp each ground black pepper, cumin and allspice
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
8 small slices toasted bread
White balsamic vinegar
Turn the liver over in the spice mixture. Fry it in the oil until brown on the outside but still pink inside - around two to three minutes. Season, then slice the liver and place on the toast. A quick spray with the vinegar and off it goes.