Hello everyone and welcome to Prix Fixed, Lifehacker menu planning advice column.
This week’s email is a request for a meal to share with parents, relatives the sender of the email hasn’t seen or hugged for too long:
I would like to cook a nice dinner for my parents next month. This will be the first time we can see each other in person since fall 2019; which is the longest we have ever gone without a visit.
Number of people: 4 adults
Dietary restrictions: Both my parents and I follow the Noom diet. Basically, that means we stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, and white meat. We can always make a dessert that is not too caloric (thinking of something like a torte de schaum with fresh fruit versus something like a date bar). Side accompaniments, we make a lot of soups based on broth, large salads with vinaigrette; not so much mashed potatoes (I miss you all the time, potatoes). We all drink; and most of us love gin. (You can temporarily make me restrict my potato intake, but you’ll take my alcohol out of my clenched fists, Noom.)
Kitchen Supplies: We have a good set of pots and pans (stainless steel and antique cast iron), baking dishes, etc. There’s a 35-year-old Kitchenaid, a food processor, but no blender. We also have a sous vide and an instant pot (both purchased on my recommendation as I am not silent on your reviews). My parents have a gas stove / oven and a grill (I’m bad at grilling but ready to practice).
Cooking skills: I am a fairly competent home cook. Knife skills can always improve; but I am quite capable of following a recipe and I can riff a bit if I need to or if the mind prompts me. Pastry skills are greatly improved if I use mixtures. I can make a medium meringue though.
Also of note, my parents live in the middle of nowhere, for example, regularly buy “specialty ingredients” from the Mennonite store in the middle of nowhere. one way hour.
Please let me know if there is anything else you would like to know. Thank you!
I’ll admit I’m not familiar with Noom or its settings, but “stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and white meat” is a concept I can fully understand. When I first read this sentence, I stopped, closed my eyes, and enthusiastically whispered “poached chicken” in an empty living room. I know “poached chicken” doesn’t sound exciting, but trust me, it is.
As AA Newton explained in his iconic blog concerning the preparation of poultry, poaching is the method to maximize the potential of the bird. “Oh, but what about the skin?” The enemies will moan. We are going to take it out once the chicken is poached and fry it, oh you all of little faith. (Did you really think I didn’t have a skin plan?)
Not only is a poached chicken the tenderest, juiciest form of a chicken, but the poaching broth is, in a nutshell, divine. You can throw any flavoring you want in the jar, but I usually go with a whole head of garlic, a whole shallot, and a really big chunk of garlic, like in “the one that takes up 80% of my palm”.
The result is a dish that looks simple, yet has a complex taste and is immensely comforting. It’s a healing feeling, much like a good, long hug with loved ones you haven’t seen in over a year.
A word of warning: you should start preparing the dish about 3-5 hours before eating it, but only 20% of that time requires your active participation, as the chicken gets its flavor from a long period of soaking.
For one side, I’m a huge fan of a crushed cucumber salad. (Crushed cucumbers retain so much more effective dressing than smooth slices.) For dessert, I would take advantage of the vast bounty of late spring and grab the most seasonal fruit in your area. If it’s a melon, grab or Make some chilli salt; if it’s a berry, take a pint of heavy cream. If you want to make cocktails – and I think you do – I suggest meyer lemon white ladies or Old Fashioneds gin with fresh lemon syrup.
The shopping list
Enough chatting, let’s go shopping. You will need:
- 1 chicken
- 1 large piece of ginger (Get a large bud at least 2 inches in length)
- 1 shallot (or bunch of green onions)
- 2 heads of garlic
- Whatever type of quick-cooking veg you like – spinach, baby bok choy, and snow pea leaves all work well (you’ll need a large handful per person)
- 2 large (or 4 small) cucumbers
- Toasted sesame oil
- Rice wine vinegar
- Sambal oelek (or sriracha)
- Fish sauce
- The freshest, most seasonal fruit your local store has to offer
- If this fruit is melon or pineapple: Chilli salt (or the ingredients to make this chili salt)
- If this fruit is a berry or stone fruit: Heavy cream
- Whatever cocktail ingredients you need for the old or White ladies
Pantry staples you may have but may need to purchase:
- brown sugar
- Soya sauce
To prepare the poached chicken you will need:
- The chicken
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 shallot
- 1 very large piece of ginger
- A large handful of salt (to exfoliate the chicken)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
- 1 tablespoon of white sugar
- 4 big handfuls of these quick cooking vegetables. (Or 4 baby bok choys)
About five hours before supper time (or three hours if your chicken is very small), take the chicken out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature on the counter for an hour. (Start a ambient temperature chicken in ambient temperature water ensures complete cooking.) Once it has lost its cold, take it out of the packaging, remove all the giblets and place it in a colander in the sink. Pour a big handful of salt over the chicken, rub it inside and out and rinse it. This will remove any dirt from the skin and give a clearer and better broth.
Place the chicken in a saucepan, fill the cavity with water, then rotate it so that the breast is facing up and add enough water to cover. Cut off the first 1/4 inch or so from the top of your garlic to expose the cloves (and make sure you rinse the end of the root well), cut your shallot in half and remove the outer foil (or rinse a few green onions. ), and roughly chop the ginger, unpeeled, into 1/4-inch slices.
Add everything to the pot, salt and sugar, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it boils, lower the heat and let it simmer. Simmer for half an hour, then cover, remove from heat and steep for 2 to 4 hours, depending on the size. (Most medium-sized chickens do just fine with three hours, but you can’t really overcook them with this method.)
Go do something else until an hour before serving time, that’s when you’ll start the cucumber salad. (If some of the chicken starts to come out during the simmering step, add a little more water.)
For the cucumber salad, you will need:
- 2 large or 4 small cucumbers
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of white sugar
- 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
- 1-2 teaspoons of sambal oelek or sriracha
- 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon of fish sauce
When the chicken has still about an hour of soaking, take your cucumbers, rinse them well and put them in a gallon-sized freezer bag and mash them with a large ladle or small saucepan. Break the large pieces into bite-sized pieces with your hands. Add the salt and white sugar to the bag, shake to coat, then pour the cucumbers into a colander placed in the sink or large bowl. Put everything in the refrigerator for an hour. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a jar, close the jar and shake to make your vinaigrette. Reserve until supper time.
After your chicken’s soaking time has elapsed, carefully remove it from the pan by inserting a sturdy, long-handled spoon into the cavity and gently tilting it upward so that the broth from the cavity spills into the pan. (While you’re doing this, have someone else start making the cocktails and tell them to make yours first.)
Gradually lift the chicken out, using another spoon for extra support if needed. Place the chicken on the cutting board and remove most (or all!) Of its skin, then place the skin pieces flat in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally so that both sides are crispy. While the skin becomes crisp, strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve and return it to the pot. Bring the broth back to a boil, rinse the greens and throw them in the broth and cook until they are bright green. Pour the greens and broth into bowls, cut up the chicken, and bless each bowl with white or dark meat, depending on the bowl owner’s preference. Briefly sponge the skin of the chicken on paper towels, season with salt and place the skin on the poached chicken. Toss cucumbers with just enough dressing to coat and serve salad with bowls of broth and chicken.
If you’re serving pineapple or melon for dessert, chop it up and serve with chili salt. If you are serving berries or stone fruits, take them out of the fridge when you serve the chicken so that it can come to room temperature, then rinse (and slice, if necessary) just before serving. Divide them into small bowls (or tea cups) and pour as much cold heavy cream as you are comfortable with it. You can even add a pinch or two of sugar if you want. I won’t say anything to Mr. Noom.