Recipes – № 19
Chinese Chicken, Potatoes and Apples in Broth
In the early 90ies I backpacked around the world for two years and halfway into this trip I bought a beaten up VW Golf in Cape Town to drive around Southern Africa. I loaded the car with some other backpackers for company, among them a cook from Hong Kong called Chan. Chan had been traveling around the world himself, for no less than seven years, finding Chinese restaurant work wherever he went, which was everywhere. Needless to say he was a great travel companion. On the coast we idiotically dared the Atlantic waves to harvest wild mussels by the bucket from slippery rocks and on safari we took our cue from the wild carnivores we spotted during the day and grilled kudu antelope sausages in front of our tents at night. Chan also treated his fellow travelers to a Chinese chicken dish, which was simple enough to throw together on a camping stove yet infinitely satisfying on a cold Namibian winter night (yes, it does get cold in Africa). I have no idea what happened to Chan – maybe he’s STILL traveling – but I have never stopped making his brothy stew in the winters.
The recipe uses chicken pieces with skin and bones because they deepen the flavor of the broth and, some say, provide numerous health benefits. Americans have gotten used to boneless chicken and you could substitute chicken breasts for the whole chicken here, but you’d be missing out. Go ahead, join us messy eaters and get your fingers dirty, it’s worth it.
Serves 8 as a main dish
1 whole chicken, 3.5 to 4 lbs
2 ½ lbs potatoes. Around 2 lbs peeled. Any reasonably waxy, medium or large yellow-, white- or red-fleshed variety.
3 large yellow onions. Or 1 ½ lbs of other yellow or white onion.
3 to 4 apples
Kosher salt and fine sea salt
3 cups jasmine rice (uncooked)
Soy sauce for serving
Cut the chicken into 2-inch, bone-in chunks with a meat cleaver or poultry shears. Season evenly on all sides with kosher salt. Peel the potatoes and onions. Peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut apples and vegetables into 1-inch pieces and place into your largest pot with the chicken and some sea salt. Depending on the size of your pot, you might have to use two pots. Cover with cold water, around 3 quarts, bring to a boil and turn it down to a simmer. Use a mesh skimmer or ladle to skim off the frothy scum that builds on the surface in the first few minutes after the pot reaches the boiling point. As the broth simmers along, use a ladle to occasionally skim off the chicken fat floating to the surface. Adjust the salt once the chicken parts are cooked. You are aiming for just short of the ideal saltiness, as you’ll still add a little soy sauce later. The broth is done when the flavors have come together and the onions have lost any remaining bite, around 1.5 hours.
1 hour into simmering the broth, boil the jasmine rice in a rice cooker (or a pot on the stove) with 5 cups of cold water and let it rest for 10 minutes or so once cooked.
Serve in large individual bowls by spooning in some steamed rice, covering it with broth (including all the good bits) and adding a splash or two of soy sauce.
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