Any hen had a pretty good time of it living in the freedom of our farmyard, the envy of their sisters in batteries and barns. Until, that is, the eggs stopped coming and the speckled hen became the stockpot chicken. Butchers called them boiling fowl and you can still get them, frozen, from your local supermarket.
They are worth buying. The flavor from these older birds is superb and the flesh need not be tough if it's treated right, which means long, slow cooking. While you would never use one for roasting, although you can if you are cunning, they make fantastic couscous and rice dishes. They are also good in pies and pancakes. Here's just one recipe for preparing a boiler that will reward you with a wonderful stock, delicious meat and some excellent rendered fat for cooking potatoes or making shortcrust pastry. Here's what you need: 1 boiling fowl 2 carrots, cut into chunks 1 onion, chopped 6 small potatoes, quartered 3 bruised cloves of garlic 1 lemon 1tsp coriander seeds 1tsp fennel seeds 1 chili (optional) 1 glass white wine 1 cup of water Preheat the oven to 75°C That is not a misprint.
Put the vegetables in the bottom of a casserole dish with the garlic, chili, wine and water. Puncture the lemon in several places with a fork, insert it in the chicken and put the chicken on top of the vegetables. Crush the seeds in a pestle and mortar, or use a small bowl and the end of a rolling pin, and scatter them over the chicken. Cover the casserole tightly and leave it in the oven for 12 hours. Halfway through the cooking time, turn the chicken over. Take the chicken out of the pot and set it aside.
Strain the stock and chill it until the fat solidifies. Then scrape it off the top of the stock and store separately. Keep the vegetables separate and ready to serve, but remove the chili, if you used one. When it's cool enough to handle, joint the chicken, keeping the legs and wings 'on the bone' if you intend to make couscous or chicken with rice.
Strip all the flesh if you are going to make pancakes. Both the chicken and the vegetables can be reheated in the stock, or covered in the microwave. You could also use these to make a pie, using the fat to make the pastry. The flavors will be unbelievable and stay with you long after the meal is finished.
Michael Sheridan is a former head-chef and an acknowledged authority and published writer on cooking matters. His website at http://www.thecoolcook.com contains a wealth of information, hints, tips and recipes for busy home cooks