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Sunday, August 14, 2011

What to do with a boiled chicken

Remember all those recipes that began with, "Boil an old hen"? I've surely boiled a lot of hens in my day, and often now when a recipe calls for cooked chicken--like an enchilada recipe--I buy a pre-roasted chicken at the market. And need the broth? Good, low-sodium broth comes in a box at the grocery. I can hear my mom scolding me now for my spendthrift ways--and she's probably right. But when I boil a chicken and want to use the broth, I always have to strengthen it with a bouillon cube or two, even though I add carrots, celery, an onion stuck with cloves--all those traditional things.
You can make great enchiladas with boiled chicken and great casseroles--the web is full of recipes, and I have a few if  you run short. But the recipe that sticks in my mind is for chicken loaf--a cool and perfect entree for hot summer night.
When my ex- was a resident and we were poor as church mice, we made an appointment with a real estate agent to look at a house we could not come anywhere near affording. But the agent, Carolyn Burk, suggested we rent a house in a good part of town--Arlington Heights for those from Fort Worth--that her son had just bought as an investment. We did, and that was the house we brought our first child home to. After that Carolyn adopted me. Years later, she would still call me on the birthday of each of my children--I thought it was touching of her to remember me on their days. She had two sons, and I sort of became the daughter she never had.
Carolyn gave me her recipe for chicken loaf, which her younger son--who lived with us for a while and was a special pal of mine--absolutely loved. I can never remember which of my children like it and which don't.

One hen or two fryers
1 cylinder saltine crackers
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
Chicken broth as needed
Salt and pepper

It honestly begins with, "Boil a hen." Then skin and bone it and cut into tiny pieces. Carolyn did this with scissors--or she had her husband, Burk, do it. I put it in the processor with on-and-off turns and watch that I don't let it go to mush.
Carolyn also crumbed one cylinder of saltine crackers by hand--I put them in the processor and make crumbs.
Mix crumbs and chicken; salt and pepper but  be careful with salt--the saltines have already added quite a bit. Stir in enough broth to make the mixture hold together. It should be moist be not soupy.
Carolyn, being a purist about this, never added gelatin, but my mom, who fixed the recipe often, added two envelopes, softened in water, and the loaf held together better. Megan thought it too "gelatinous," a quality she dislikes (see previous post on meatloaf).
Put the mixture in a loaf pan, cover with plastic wrap, and top with another loaf pan. Put two cans of anything, just canned goods to weight it, in the top loaf pan and refrigerate overnight.
This gives the purest chicken taste ever, and I love it. In fact, just writing about it, I think I might make it. One loaf serves eight for lunch or dinner. Serve it with mayonnaise or make a more interesting topping like blue cheese dressing or mayo with horseradish--let your imagination go! I like plain mayo, but then I'm a mayo fan.
This freezes well but must be used quickly after defrosting.

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