In pursuit of puffy poultry
Posted on April 8th, 2013
he recipe told me that if I was careful not to tear the bird’s skin when I turned it, the chicken would expand dramatically while roasting.
“If kept intact, the chicken will swell like a balloon, which makes for an arresting presentation at the table later,” Marcella Hazan, author of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, promises on page 328 of her cookbook. I was immediately intrigued. A lemon-flavored chicken whose swollen appearance could elicit confusion and comment before being carved, our otherwise boring-ass entree as art?
Stop. You had me at your ‘chicken will swell like a balloon.’
I don’t get excited about how easy a dish is supposed to be. In fact, I am suspicious of any end arrived at too quickly and this includes my dinner. I didn’t know this about myself 15 years ago. When I look back now on my evolution in the kitchen, however, I recognize some of thesymptoms of my condition. The Kamikaze-style commitment I made to prepare a pork loin and cabbage dish for a friend’s visit was one of those occasions. The entrée required ingredients I had to buy (because I had none), cooking expertise (also none) and twice as much time as the recipe told me I would need because I didn’t know what I was doing.
Then there was the time when I invited another mommy from my playgroup over for dinner while her partner was away on business. I told her over dinner that I’d picked this chili recipe out of the bunch because I wanted to try something new.
“You’ve never made this before?” my guest asked, bewildered—and not because the dish was so delicious as to render her disoriented. It was profoundly weird to her that I would make food for another person when I wasn’t sure if it was going to be edible.
I knew a woman who would say from one dinner party to the next, “Let’s just do something casual,” as if we ever did anything but that. Pizzas out of boxes for the kids and mojitos made with diet 7-up and packets of Splenda (that I had to sneak into the bathroom and pour down the sink) left me asking myself why it was exactly that our new norm was ‘casual’ or fast and easy.
When did effort become an ugly word?
When I pulled Marcella Hazan’s roast chicken with two lemons out of the oven the skin was… taut. Don’t get me wrong, it was no chicken-flavored balloon or anything, but in the few seconds it sat on the counter as we fumbled for the camera, I promise you that the top of that bird actually deflated just a little.
It made me so happy.∗