It’s all Chip’s fault.
I’ve been eating… not badly, but let’s say CASUALLY of late. After months of being mindful of what I ate, I’d been pretty much munching on whatever came to hand without too much thought.
(Still drinking lots of water; still exercising regularly – but why NOT have a sandwich instead of a salad? And once you hit that point, what’s a little ice cream going to hurt?)
So my guru goddess Barbara suggested I have a refresher session with the ace Body Dynamics nutritionist; a “Come To Chip,” if you will. (I won’t frown at your deities, you don’t frown at mine.)
Chip is such a nice guy. We get to talking and he makes all sorts of things seem possible. This is critical, because as you and I both know, you simply can’t make something happen if you’re sure you can’t do it – but if you are persuaded this might work, you might just pull it off.
(“Hey, Skipper! I’m up here!” “Gilligan! How are you… but you can’t fly!” “I can’t?” “No!” “Oh.” Thump.)
Chip offered me a simple challenge: I was to cook a chicken.
Nothing fancy; just buy a whole chicken and roast it. Tuck in some onions and carrots and little red potatoes around the carcass and let them roast in the goozle. It sounded so EASY. I said I’d do it.
I bought the chicken. I bought the veggies. I did NOT buy radishes, which apparently the Barefoot Contessa told Chip can be roasted with all the other vegetables. “Delicious,” pronounced Chip, and it sounded so easy. Still, there’s only so far out of my comfort zone I’m willing to go, and radishes were a step too far.
“Roasting a chicken?” said my friend Susan, “You won’t believe me, but that’s totally easy.”
“To roast a chicken,” said my son, “go online to ‘Basics with Babish: Chicken.’ It’s easy.”
So I watched an eight-minute video in which a man spay-cotched or splat-grabbed or spoof-cocked a chicken. (I don’t remember the word.) This means taking large kitchen shears and cutting the spine out of the bird. “Then we make a little snip here at the breast bone to open the bird up. We’re butterflying our chicken so it will cook faster and more evenly.”
By the end of the video, I was filled with blackness and anxiety. My shoulders had risen up around my ears, and the piece of paper I was taking notes on was filled with profanities, like “Well, what am I supposed to do with my roasting vegetables, you elegant fuck?”
Rusty came in and took one look at me and immediately hugged me. “It’s okay! You don’t have to do it! Want me to cook the chicken?”
Rusty, like every other human in his family tree, regards cooking as a little in-home adventure; he greets the concept with joy. Since he’s been home, he’s made a chicken/sausage/rice dish, and he’s twice cooked mussels succotash for his friends (the second time after popular demand). He’s fearless, and next to him – next to ANY cook – I feel small and pathetic and contemptible.
So of course I got angry. “NO!” I cried. “You will NOT cook that chicken. I will cook that damned chicken! Now get out of the kitchen, pretend you can’t see me, leave me alone!”
The “basic” recipe was utterly disgusting. I’m sure Babish, whoever he is, has kitchen shears designed for Thor the God of Thunder, as well as great big man hands – I have neither. MY kitchen shears didn’t slice through the bird quite as easily as his did in the video. I was left hacking away at rib bones and God knows what else – and you can’t put your hand out to apply stress to make the cutting easier because you’d be grabbing on to a lot of broken bones.
Once I’d hacked my way through the back of what I was determined to believe had NEVER been a living thing (two hacking passes, mind you – you have to cut on both sides of the spine, of course, to get it out), ol’ “basic” Babish told me I should reserve the spine to make chicken stock with. If a look could fry electronics, I would have killed my iPad. Straight into the refuse bag, along with the perfectly REVOLTING bag of gizzards.
The purported “little snip” at the breastbone to butterfly the bird was a complete mystery; I’m more likely to uncover the lost city of Atlantis than I was to identify the location of the “little snip.” I just took both sides of the bird in either hand and applied pressure until something cracked. Do grave robbers feel this same slimy sense of horror?
Then I had to loosen the skin over the breast and along the thigh and into the drumstick, so I could “spoon in” a paste of butter and herbs. “There’s a little membrane here that we have to just get past to get in,” he said. “FASCIA,” I shouted at the screen. “I know what that is; it’s fascia, you utter butthead, and now you’re REALLY making me sick because *I* have fascia and you’d have to break through it to skim a coating of butter and herbs over my meat.”
Cooking is disgusting.
Babish was using tidy little disposable gloves to butter up his flayed chicken carcass under the skin; I didn’t have any gloves. I did it with my own lily whites, and I did it with the grim determination of the stretcher crew picking up dead bodies after the battle.
I put my desecrated bird on a wire rack on a foil-lined pan, as Babish did – and then I despairingly tucked my veggies in around the carcass, hoping at least some of the fat would drip on to them temporarily before draining through the rack to the pan below. Then I threw it in the oven.
“Forty-five minutes should do it,” Babish cheerfully assured me, “Or until the breast is 155 degrees and the thighs are 175.”
I told Rusty it was now safe to come back into the kitchen, and began the de-chickening process. (I’m paranoid about raw chicken. I’m rarely driven to actually clean; I’m a mop-clean-with-a-wet-dishcloth kind of person, but I haul out the 409 for raw chicken and clean EVERYTHING.)
After 45 minutes, the thigh was up to 180 and the breast was 145. Well, shit. NOW what?
Rusty soothingly said “Let the thighs be overcooked. You want the breast meat to come up to 155. Don’t take it out yet.”
I turned on the convection oven; that ought to help. I set the timer for four minutes.
(Why four? Why not five? Because five seemed like TOO MUCH – an amateur length of time that would result in little chicken-flavored charcoal briquets.)
At the end of four minutes, the breast meat was the same temperature, but the thighs had cooled down to 174. WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT??
Four more minutes. Then four more. By the time the 45-minute-bird had been in the oven for a full hour, Rusty and I agreed we’d just pull it out. And then what do you suppose happened?
It tasted like chicken.
I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. The vegetables were not tender and delicious; they were dessicated and lightly charred. The further we got into the chicken, the pinker it got. We began to be suspicious. “I think my stomach feels wiggy,” said the boy nervously.
“Wiggy?!” I said in a panic. “For chrissake, stop eating!”
It was nerves; we neither of us got sick – but every burp or fart was regarded with profound suspicion. We threw the whole thing out. With a certain doomsday relief, I must say.
Then we went out and bought ice cream. So all in all – backfire.
If you THINK you can’t cook, then rest assured: You can’t.
Spatch-cocked. That was the word. Looked pretty, didn’t it?