Poach your poultry

why the chicken soup cooked just before the Yom Kippur fast always comes out the best.

Quick Chicken and Rice Soup 311 (photo credit: gourmetkoshercooking.com)
Quick Chicken and Rice Soup 311
(photo credit: gourmetkoshercooking.com)
‘The chicken soup just before the Yom Kippur fast,’ my mother said, “always comes out the best.” During the rest of year she made her soup with chicken pieces for a first course, followed by a roast chicken entree. For the seuda hamafseket (the meal before the fast) she made the soup from a whole chicken to serve as a main course. Because she was poaching a whole chicken, she cooked the soup for a longer time and this produced a more delicious soup.
Even though these days most people use money instead of a live chicken for the custom of kapparot, chicken is still the traditional choice for the dinner preceding the Yom Kippur fast. I sometimes opt for turkey pieces, as poaching is one of my favorite ways to prepare them.
In contemporary cooking, poaching has been somewhat ignored. People often roast, grill, fry or saute their poultry. But the time-honored technique of poaching is valued by countless cooks throughout the world.
Poaching produces moist, tender meat, as well as a flavorful cooking broth that is used in a variety of ways: served as a soup, made into a sauce or used to cook grains. According to Meri Badi, author of 250 Recettes de Cuisine Juive Espagnole (250 Recipes of Sephardi Cooking), Sephardi cooks might poach their chicken with grated tomatoes and a little oil added to the water and then use the liquid to cook rice.
Usually the dinner before the fast is not elaborate, as many people are rushing to get to the synagogue in time to hear the chanting of Kol Nidre. Thus, it’s convenient to cook and serve a one-pot meal that includes vegetables as well as satisfying carbohydrate foods – matza balls, noodles or rice or other grains. When I poach poultry, I like to add whole wheat berries, as they benefit from long, slow cooking and gain flavor from the broth. I add vegetables when the bird is partially cooked so they won’t fall apart and become a puree.
Legumes are another good addition. For the pre-fast dinner, Jews from Algeria poach chickpeas along with the chicken, and later add a variety of vegetables. In the family of Melanie Bacri, author of 100 Recettes de Cuisine Familiale Juive D’Algerie (100 Recipes of Algerian Jewish Family Cooking), the vegetables selected are carrots, turnips, cabbage and zucchini. She flavors her soup with sauteed onions, tomatoes, fresh coriander, paprika and cayenne and uses it to moisten her couscous.
For a more festive main course, some like to stuff chickens before they poach them. In Paris I learned to prepare poule au pot, French-style chicken in the pot, this way it had a stuffing made of meat, bread crumbs, onions and herbs.
Gracia Grego, author of Lebanese Cooking (in Hebrew), uses a similar technique. She stuffs her chicken with ground beef, which she sautees and moistens with a little hot water and then adds rice, pine nuts, salt, pepper and cinnamon. When the stuffed chicken is partially poached, she adds sauteed potato cubes to the broth.
The chicken’s cavity has to be sewn shut to prevent the stuffing from coming out during poaching. Cooks who want an easier way to introduce the flavor of beef into the soup poach meatballs alongside the chicken.
To avoid provoking thirst during the fast, it is a good idea to go easy on the spices and use little or no salt.
The writer is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.
The taste of this savory entree, made with both fresh and dried mushrooms, is somewhat reminiscent of old-fashioned mushroom- barley soup. As the turkey cooks, its tasty broth gives the wheat berries a good flavor.
For a colorful, nutritious addition, add 1 to 2 cups frozen shelled edamame (green soy beans) for the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Makes about 6 servings
1.4 kg. (3 pounds) turkey drumsticks or thighs 11⁄2 cups wheat berries, sorted and rinsed 2 large onions, coarsely chopped 5 cups water, or more if necessary Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 55 gr. (2 ounces) dried mushrooms – any kind you like 2 carrots, diced 1⁄4 tsp. turmeric 6 large garlic cloves, chopped 170 to 225 gr. (6 to 8 ounces)
fresh mushrooms, quartered 2 to 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
In a large stew pan, combine turkey, wheat berries and onions and add 5 cups water, or enough to generously cover ingredients. Add a small pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, turning turkey pieces over from time to time, for 2 hours or until turkey is very tender when pierced in thickest part with a knife and wheat berries are tender.
Remove turkey from liquid. Cool broth and thoroughly skim fat from surface.
Meanwhile, soak dried mushrooms for 30 minutes in a bowl of enough hot water to cover them. Remove mushrooms and rinse them. If stems are hard, remove them; you can save them for making vegetable broth. Cut mushrooms into bite-size pieces.
Remove turkey skin with aid of a paring knife. Discard turkey bones, cartilage and visible fat. Pull or cut meat into wide strips.
Add carrots, dried mushrooms, garlic and turmeric to broth. Bring to a boil.
Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 7 minutes. Add fresh mushrooms and cook for 5 more minutes or until carrots and all mushrooms are tender.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add a little cayenne, if desired. Return turkey meat, wheat berries and vegetables to pan and add dill. Serve hot.CHICKEN IN THE POT WITH MATZA BALLS
This delicately seasoned soup is best when made with fresh herbs – dill, coriander, parsley or a mixture of all three. For convenience, make the soup a day or two ahead so that the fat is easy to skim from the cold soup.
To serve the chicken the way my mother did, I serve the broth with matza balls as an appetizer, followed by the carved chicken with the vegetables. If you’d like a meal in a bowl, cut the chicken in pieces, discarding the bones if you want, and serve the pieces in the soup in large bowls along with the vegetables and the matza balls.
Makes about 6 servings
1 whole chicken, about 1.5 to 1.8 kg (31⁄4 to 4 pounds) Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 large onion, whole or sliced 2 bay leaves 3 large eggs 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil 2⁄3 cup matza meal 3⁄4 tsp salt (for matza ball batter) 3⁄4 tsp baking powder 6 medium-sized boiling potatoes 4 large carrots, cut in chunks 4 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped 225 gr. (1⁄2 pound) green beans, broken in half, or 4 white squash (Hebrew kishuim), cut in chunks 1⁄3 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs – dill, fresh coriander and parsley Remove fat from chicken. Put chicken in a large pot. Add chicken neck and giblets, except liver.
Sprinkle with pepper on both sides, and with just a bit of salt. Add onion to pot and cover ingredients generously with water, about 8 cups. Add bay leaves and bring to a boil. Skim excess foam from surface.
Cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the matza ball batter: In a medium bowl lightly beat eggs with oil. Add matza meal, salt and baking powder and stir until smooth.
Last, stir in 1 or 2 tablespoons of the chicken soup. Refrigerate mixture for 20 minutes so the matza meal absorbs the liquid.
Bring 3 or 4 liters (3 or 4 quarts) salted water to a boil in a large saucepan; reduce the heat so the water simmers.
Check the matza ball batter; it should be soft. If it is stiff, gradually stir in a little more chicken soup by tablespoons.
With wet hands, take about 1 teaspoon of matza ball mixture and roll it between your palms into a ball; mixture will be very soft and balls need not be even rounds. Carefully add each ball to the into simmering water. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or until firm. Cover and keep them warm until ready to serve.
Peel potatoes. After soup has cooked for 1 hour, add potatoes, carrots and garlic. Cover and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. Add green beans and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes or until chicken and vegetables are tender. Skim off fat. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Cut chicken in serving pieces. Remove skin and return chicken to soup. After reheating soup, stir in the fresh herbs.
Serve soup with matza balls as a first course, using a slotted spoon to add a few matza balls to each bowl of soup.
Next, serve the chicken with vegetables in deep plates and spoon a little broth over them.