Under Pressure: A Tough Old Bird Goes Tender
Upon learning that I had never prepared a stewing hen, Jeff from Copicut Farms suggested I try one since he knows I like to experiment in the kitchen.
Spoiler Alert: 15 minutes in a pressure cooker does the trick, although I know one can have equally excellent results using a crock pot or simmering or braising the bird long and slow on the stove top or in the oven.
The other spoiler alert: Stewing hens are UG-U-LY!
I was a bit short on time and I also had a hankering for garbanzo beans since, in my research, I had come across some recipes that combined chicken and chick peas, as garbanzos are also known, in a hearty stew, hence my opting for the pressure cooker method.
I came up with an outline for a recipe, posted it on Facebook so I would have it in writing, and onward into the kitchen I went to get the beans into a quick soak before cooking them with the chicken and barley. I had decided I wanted a stew and barley seemed a good choice for a fall concoction.
There are some variations in instructions for soaking beans, but generally, dried legumes bigger than lentils or peas need to be soaked about 8 hours and then drained before cooking in fresh water. If short on time, you cover the beans by about an inch of water in a pot, bring it to a boil, remove from heat, and let sit covered for an hour in lieu of the longer soak.
In a real pinch, you can opt to cook beans in the pressure cooker without any soaking, but unsoaked garbanzos would have taken way longer than the chicken and barley; plus, I’d rather soak beans so as to make them more digestible.
While the beans soaked, I gathered the first set of ingredients and cut up the chicken and seasoned it with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Once the beans were ready to go, I lightly browned the chicken in some olive oil, added a clove or two of garlic, (about a scant tablespoon chopped) stirred until fragrant, and then added the soaked and drained garbanzos and 1/2 cup pearl barley that I had first picked over and rinsed. I tossed in two bay leaves and topped it all off with 6 cups of water, closed the lid, brought to pressure, and cooked for 15 minutes.
After the 15 minutes, I removed the pressure cooker from heat and let it sit until the pressure came down naturally and the pot could be opened safely. (You can run a pressure cooker under cold water – the fast release method – but it can wreak havoc with some foods, such as beans!)
Then I drained the beans and barley because they were almost too done and I still had carrots and leeks to cook in the liquid.
Along with carrot and leek from Farmer Dave, I chopped up a bunch of fresh parsley from Flats Mentor Farm to make a 2-3 tablespoons, and added a teaspoon each of dried oregano and dried thyme to the liquid.
I also had a tomato that was just about too ripe, so I chopped that up to add to the fun.
Next I brought the liquid back to boil, added the veggies, and simmered until the veggies were tender.
While that was going on, I picked the now cooled chicken off the bones and the skin off the chicken and pulled the chicken meat into bite-sized pieces.
Note how dark the meat it compared to that from a chicken raised for butchering. It makes for a nice deep flavor…Nothing against Copicut Farms regular chickens! Those rock, too. 🙂 And have more meat, of course.
Once the veggies were tender, I added the chicken, garbanzos, and barley back to the stock, and heated through.
A final touch of salt and pepper was all it needed. Quick, easy, tasty, nutritious. A winner! I’ll be asking Copicut Farms to bring some more stewing chickens to the market this week, that is for sure! And, thanks for the suggestion, Jeff! 🙂