I realize this may feel like deja vu, me extolling the virtues of another Jamie Oliver creation, which happens to also feature a whole chicken cooked in a pot. I realize I'm rather boring. But hear me out. Consider this the spring equivalent of the other Jamie Oliver chicken in a pot. And we know how delicious that was.
When I mentioned to Mom the other day that I was making poached chicken for dinner, she very politely wrinkled her nose and said: "How old fashioned. And boring." And who can blame her, really. Poached chicken conjures up thoughts of rubbery mayonnaised salad and bland dietetic food. Luckily, I tasted this dish before I had the chance to judge it based on its title, when the student I tutor offered me some of her leftovers while we worked. I'm not usually in the habit of taking food from my students, but I was hungry, she was having some, we needed a break, and it just looked so pretty, studded with bright green peas, orange slices of carrot, silky leaves of spinach wound around pale pink baby radishes and half moons of potatoes. With the richness and kick of the horseradish cream, there was no trace of the wan pale chicken mom was anticipating.
The broth isn't bold in its chicken flavor, and when I made it at home I was disappointed at first. When it came together in the bowl, though, the beauty of the dish emerged. It's not chicken soup--oh no--the focus is the fresh vegetables and chicken, with the broth as a warming accent to bring it together. Jamie's description of how to serve it reflects this: "divide a nice mixture of veg between 4 bowls, put some shredded chicken on top, then ladle over some of the wonderful, comforting broth. Sprinkle over some of the chopped reserved fennel tops or some celery leaves, with a healthy dollop of horseradish crème fraîche on top and a drizzle of nice peppery olive oil" Doesn't that sound lovely? It is.
Right now, when the markets are full of baby vegetables, just making their spring debut, this is the perfect recipe for the transition from spring to summer. Just warm enough to comfort on a rainy May day, fresh enough to satisfy that intense urge some of us get the first time we see a bit of color among the Farmer's Market's wintry bins of root vegetables, with a surprizing note of heat that hits the back of your tongue and hints at June's rising mercury.
Jamie Oliver's Spring Poached Chicken (slightly adapted by the Mouse)
• 4lb free-range, organic chicken
• a handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley
• 4 bay leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 handfuls of new potatoes, scrubbed
• 2 handfuls of baby carrots, or carrots sliced into 2 in lengths
• 2 handfuls of baby radishes
• 1 bulb of fennel, quartered, herby tops removed and reserved
• 1.5 T drained bottled horseradish (or to taste)
• 1 Cup of crème fraîche
• 2 handfuls of fresh or frozen peas (I used frozen)
• 1 colanderful of spinach or Swiss chard
• olive oil
Clean your chicken and stuff it with the parsley and bay leaves. Salt and Pepper it. Put it in a large pot (very large--my 7 qt dutch oven was almost too small, but you could always use a smaller chicken) and fill with water to cover chicken by a couple of centimeters. Add potatoes (halve if they're large). Bring to a boil, then cover with a lid and lower heat to simmer for about 20 minutes. Add carrots, radishes, and fennel, and simmer for another 30 to 40 minutes.
While this is cooking, prepare the horseradish creme by mixing the creme fraiche and horseradish, taste to make sure the proportions are right.
By now, the chicken should be done--test to see if the leg comes away from chicken easily. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside to cool.
Add the peas and spinach to the broth and cook for one minute. Season to taste.
To serve, spoon vegetables into bowl, top with shredded or sliced chicken, ladle over some broth and add a generous dollop of horseradish cream. Sprinkle some chopped fennel fronds, parsley, or celery leaves over the top if you like.