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Should you ever boil chicken?

When I first heard of the idea of boiling chicken, I was pretty aghast. I mean, grilled chicken, abso-bloody-lutely, pan fry, sure - gorgeous chicken here we come. Steamed chicken breast isn’t very interesting, but it’s very nutritious. But boiling chicken? I envisoned something dull, tough, flavourless, and with all the nutrients swimming around in the pan.

But actually, there are a few reasons why you might want to boil chicken, or at least do something approximating to boiling it.

h2. If you need to do something with cheap chicken legs

Chicken is one of my favourite foods on earth, but more than any other meat, it really depends on how well the animal was grown. Linda Dick grass-fed free-range birds have a beautiful flavour with nothing done to them. But cheap-ass bottom-of-the-supermarket battery-farmed chicken? Ugh. It’s a bit like eating slightly off tofu.

Still, I’ve been poor a fair few times, and during one of them I figured that boiling chicken thighs - well, not boiling them exactly, more poaching them - was about the only way to make them palatable.

Make up a fairly flavourful stock - you can do this pretty cheaply with a couple of cut onions, carrots, and a fairly serious amount of vegetable stock cubes and some wine vinegar or ideally wine (you can use off wine from a couple of days ago). Immerse your cheap thighs in it, and heat the entire thing until it’s just bubbling. Now leave it to go for a few hours.

When you’re done, you’ll have some chicken thighs with actual flavour soaked into them, no matter how rubbish the initial bird was.

h2. If you’re wanting to make a stew or stock

Of course, people always say that you should make a chicken stock with a chicken carcass. That’s great if you happen to have one lying around. But if not, I’ve found that frozen chicken pieces make a fairly acceptable substitute fresh stock.

Fill a great big stock pot with water. Add carrots, celery and onion. Dump half a dozen frozen chicken pieces in there - yeah, I know people say you should defrost them, but frankly if you’re going to boil the darn thing for a couple of hours there’s no bacteria on earth that can survive that (even Bacillus Cereus, infamous for surviving high temperatures, won’t survive more than 20 minutes of boiling). Bring to the boil, then lower to a simmer, and leave to stew for one and a half to two hours. (Ignore people who tell you to cook stocks for eight hours - it IS possible to overcook a stock). Skim the scum that rises to the surface - using this method, you’ll get a lot of it.

When you’re done, you’ll have some great stock, far better than anything you’ll get from a store, and you’ll have loads of extremely well-cooked chicken, which won’t be too flavourful, but will taste OK if it’s shredded and fried (see below).

h2. If you want a low-hassle way to get some shredded chicken

Like I say above, there’s no reason you can’t take frozen chicken straight to boiled chicken that I know of. If you’re wanting some shredded chicken for a stir fry or similar, and you’ve got some chicken in the freezer, just take it out and boil it for a while (at a gentle boil, not a rolling boil), where a while’s about 45 minutes or more - check it to make sure it’s done before you serve, obviously. It’ll be a bit dry and it’s not the best way to cook chicken, but unless you’ve got a sous-vide water bath, it’s probably the most convenient.

Once they’re cooked, just take your bits of chicken out - they should shred really easily, and they’ll be perfectly acceptable deep-fried or used in fried rice.


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