Waiting For Spring
Le printemps arrive. Reveling in the coming season, Beppo stays close to the flowering mimosa, reminding himself of the joys of lengthening days spent lazing in the sun, or hunting for spring mice, fresh from their winter’s naps.
The garden bravely sends forth its first scouts. Today they’re being chilled by the mistral, but probably tomorrow they’ll be gazing into the sun. It’s that season of unpredictability. It’s the season for poule au pot.
Before I lived in France I never thought much about poule au pot. Chicken simmered in broth with vegetables sounded pretty innocuous, bland, unappetizing. And I certainly never thought about pre-spring as chicken-dying season. But the tasty and terrible truth is this: older hens, no longer laying, become poule au pot at this time of year, making room in the hen houses for their younger and more fecund sisters, the very spring chickens with whom so many of us have been unfavorably compared as we age.
To make poule au pot you must first make an exquisite broth. That’s the saving grace, the redeeming element that banishes blandness and inspires quiet humming at the dinner table. Because I use Paula Wolfert’s recipe from The Cooking of Southwest France, and so should you if at all possible, I make my broth the day before the dinner. Here four chicken carcasses snuggle on top of a heap of veal bones, warming slowly to their task,
and waiting to welcome their aromatic companions in the hot tub.
The resulting broth can stand on its own, literally and figuratively. If all you need a delicious broth, this is the one. If you have a chicken and someone to invite for dinner, so much the better.
The recipe is long, and I can’t give it to you here. Really, just get the book. But in general you’ll make a stuffing of jambon de Bayonne or prosciutto mixed with chicken livers, fill your past-spring chicken and sew her up tight, and slip her into the beautifully fragrant clear broth. As she cooks you’ll steam vegetables and make an herb mayonnaise, and pour a glass of wine for your guests, because poule au pot is a dish meant to be shared.
It won’t win any beauty contests, unless perhaps the award for Miss Conviviality. Since it’s a dish that every grandma made, and everyone has warm memories of days spent sniffing the pot simmering on the back of the stove, the stories start to flow as the dish is shared and people eat more than they thought they could. Because after all, it’s a great way to get one’s five daily servings of vegetables, all in one plate, sweetened by memory.
And then, speaking of memories, the next day you can remember it all again and make an incredibly savoury soup with the leftovers. Take the broth, now further enriched by the long simmering of your stuffed chicken, and dice into it all of the left over vegetables, chicken scraps, and stuffing bits.
Take it from me, no spring chicken myself, those older still ladies have a lot to offer.