Inspired by the poetic and lovely book An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler, I filled a pot with water and plunked in a salted, whole chicken. This might have seemed like blasphemy a week earlier. Boiled chicken had a very cafeteria vibe to it – rubbery and tasteless, often served atop plain white rice or next to canned lima beans. But Tamar had reminded me through her prose that cooking through boiling was perfectly legitimate – and resulted in a wonderful pot of broth than could be used for so much. She also advocated for a bird humanely treated and raised on a local farm perhaps, eating grubs and veggie scraps and whatever other deliciousness came her way, not in the least because these chickens taste better. And thus, during one of the first truly fall-like days, gray and blustery, I decided that a boiled chicken was not only a tasty idea, but an easy one.
To the pot I also added a cheesecloth bag with cleaned carrot ends and onion skins and parsley stems, and boiled it all, having to skim the natural scum from the top just once or twice, until it was cooked in less than an hour. Once cooked through, I removed the cheesecloth bag of ends and stems and the chicken and let it rest a bit, adding chopped carrots and onions and celeriac to the pot – all items available at the local farmer’s market in mid-fall. For lunch that day, we would have large hunks of chicken, with a bit of broth and boiled vegetables – for that is what veggies cooked in broth amounts to – served with day-old toasted bread topped with beet green pesto (think traditional pesto made with flash boiled beet greens in place of basil), warmed and softened in the broth. The rest of the chicken would be picked, some added back to the pot and returned to the fridge for a few more meals of soup over the ensuing days, enough for cold chicken salad reserved for one more meal.
Boiled chicken, stale bread, chicken salad (which I would later fancy-up with homemade aioli, the making of which involves just a few minutes of efforts for an infinitely elevated lunch counter staple) – all items that seemed pedestrian, the dishes that over-worked and under-inspired cooks prepare. But, thanks to Tamar Adler, reminded me of the purity of ingredients and – better yet – simple but delicious ways to ensure that every ounce of flavor is being eked from the items I am so careful to source from the farmer’s market or local shop.
Those few days of meals – which also resulted in a container of rich chicken broth that I froze for a future effort – inspired me to boil another chicken in preparation for a busy week. This one, shockingly, came with normally removed appendages, that, when boiled with the rest of the bird, made the broth deeper and richer than I would have imagined. For one meal, I chopped kale from the garden and braised it in the heating broth, which added a great color and texture to the soup for minimal effort. And as I warmed myself with a steaming bowl on another sunny but increasingly chilly fall day, I was reminded that the best meals really are the most simple. The ones that make the ingredients stand out, that warm from the inside, rather from their outward posturing. And I have Tamar Adler’s lovely prose to thank for that.