Hey, butthead, where you going?
Like all of them, my Mommy is the best. She's a total badass, four-foot-eleven and capable of kicking your butt. While she's accomplished pretty much everything from pop-cultural offerings in art to a doctorate, this author is mostly impressed with how she nurtured and reared me. That started with her feeding me, mostly so I didn't die. On a regular basis, she'd make a chicken. That chicken was, each and every time, one of the most yummy things ever. In an effort to be more like my mommy, you should make a chicken.
The Author and His Mommy.
Full Disclosure: A chicken is not a steak. While there are many badass recipes for grilling cow, the roast chicken is an equally formidable source of deliciousness. It often pleases the palate in a simpler way, and many would argue keeps longer. Next to next-day pizza, cold chicken with its impending chicken salad, club sandwiches or chicken n' waffles, is a wealth of ongoing sustenance. Like most good things, such as sex and making horror films, this could get messy and slightly dangerous. You may be burned or stained, but consider these risks to be badges of honor as you traverse the noble, scary world of your kitchen.
This can be you.
How is your kitchen? If you're anything like this author, it's pretty much just where coffee comes from. As a bachelor, I eat most of my meals over the sink. They're procured either from takeout, delivery or donated from friendly families and couples that take pity on me and send me home from dinner parties with leftovers. It takes a village. On too-rare an occasion, I'll decide to cook, and I'll be exceptionally pleased with the results, and more importantly, myself. It's nice to go out for a meal, or grab something quick and easy when you don't have time for anything else. The satisfaction of giving yourself exactly what you want, when you want it, how you want it, is unparalleled. It's like masturbating. Be good to you, friend-o. Also like playing with yourself, it's fun, safe and, if you do it right, a great insight into your own capabilities. But don't forget, it's still always better to share it with someone else, or even a group of friends, if you want to get really interesting. Similarly, cooking and filmmaking share many aspects: The recipe is your script, the ingredients and chopping are your pre-production. You'll dash around, stirring, tending to the hot stove and oven with fervency and limited time, just like shooting a flick. You'll put it all together on the plate, the edit, and finally, premiere your meal.
To make a chicken, you'll need some basic hardware around the kitchen:
* An oven. It's that thing that New Yorkers store their clothes in.
* A baking-pan, preferably non-stick, although you can line it with foil, the stuff you use to keep The Government from spying on you.
* A bowl.
* A turkey baster. Insert artificial insemination quip here.
* You'll also need a chicken.
* The chicken. She should be about three or four pounds, which is enough to feed three hungry people. The weight after cooking will be slightly less, and even if you're by your lonesome, the leftovers will be edible for a few days at least, up to a week.
* Garlic. Mommy always used minced garlic, which comes in jars, but crushing fresh garlic can be fun. Use a large knife to smush a peeled clove, grinding it down, and then chop it up.
* Kosher salt. It doesn't contain additives like regular table salt, and it'll get you that much closer to the Jewish Hollywood Elite. We all use it while wearing yarmulkes and deciding your fate.
* Fresh ground pepper. If you don't have a pepper grinder because you're not Rubirosa, you can get a disposable kind.
* Butter, salted, softened to room temperature. I like Last Tango as much as the next guy, but save at least half a stick for the chicken.
* Lemons, three of them.
* Chopped rosemary. Fresh is always better, but if you used dried, just crush it with your fingers, like you do with your dope before rolling a doobie.
Replace with chicken.
* Set your oven to 380 degrees, Fahrenheit, because America.
* Use a grater to make lemon zest from the rind of two of the lemons. That's just the yellow part. The white part is bitter.
* In your small bowl: Salt (1 scant teaspoon), pepper (1 scant teaspoon), garlic (1 heaping tablespoon), rosemary (1 tablespoon), that zest from the two lemons, and 1/2 stick of softened butter. Mix that stuff up in the bowl.
* Check out your bird. Fondle her. Reach inside her. Up in that chicken are what my Mommy refers to as "goobles." That is not a word and doesn't actually mean anything. What she's referring to are commonly known as the guts, which are usually the neck and gizzards, the secondary stomach that reminds us that birds are basically fucking dinosaurs and should be respected and/or feared. These organs are usually removed at the butcher and placed in a separate bag with your chicken, if they're included at all. If the guts are still all up in your bird, refer to this handy page for butchering. It's fun. This is not The Wu-Tang, there is no need to Protect Ya Neck, so toss it out along with the other bits.
* Rub the chicken generously inside and out with the mixture. Don't miss any bits. This is your special time with her. Practice your gentle caress, your attention to detail. Go ahead, put on Bound or Nine 1/2 Weeks. Now stop comparing your dressing of the chicken to lovemaking with another person. Under no circumstances should you take as many halved lemons as you can fit into the cavity of a person and stuff them inside your lover. But you should do this to the bird.
Mr. Newman obviously did not get the note regarding Kosher salt.
* Place the chicken, on the cooking pan, into the preheated oven. Loosely cover it with foil. Wait 40 minutes. After that initial 40 minutes covered, take the foil off and spoon on some of the oily juices. Cook until brown and crispy, which should be about another 15-30 minutes. You should check on it after the first 15.
Cooking times vary with the size of the bird, so consult this chart for different weights. You should always cook to taste, but with poultry, you'll want to ensure that its inside reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be entirely safe.
During this hour-plus while your bird roasts, have a drink, like a chilled white wine, Lillet or Martini Bianco. You should probably call your own personal Nathan Johnson so he can make you a delightful cocktail, which will be covered in an upcoming piece. If you're on the wagon, a nice iced tea or lemonade. You should clean as you go, put on a record, specifically any album Lou Reed recorded between 1972 and 1989, including New York. Catch up on a couple episodes of your favorite half-hour show, which should be Key & Peele or Louie. If you're fancy, it might be Girls or Veep. Consider reading a book, they're great. This is a time of reflection, to bask in the impending sense of accomplishment. Pat yourself on the back.
Winning the waiting game.
* After the actual cooking time is up and the bird is roasted, remove the chicken. There's going to be a thin layer of grease on the top of the pan. After a slight cooling off period, skim that off. Underneath is a delectable sauce that is far more flavorful than just pure oil. That's what your baster is for. Suck it up and squirt it over your bird, before and after you've carved it. Use it on your side dishes, too.
Extra credit: Cook some potatoes and/or root veggies with this! Glaze them with the mixture and halve them. Place them around the chicken for the last hour of cooking.
Potatoes, parsnips and tomatoes.
Required: A salad. Don't die of heart disease. Eat green stuff all the time and learn to enjoy it; it'll keep you alive and pooping. I often masticate the fuck out of some arugula with shaved Parmesan cheese, a little lemon and cracked pepper.
Team sport of greenery.
Not-so-humble-brag: My Granpa was a photographer and loved to take pictures of food. He took some photos of Paul Newman making dinner for his "Newman's Own Cookbook."
As family legend has it, Granpa Art suggested that Mr. Newman toss the salad. He did.
Finally, carve and plate your meal. Eat it. One trick I like to do, usually alone, is close my eyes after a bite and inhale as I chew. It's a nice way to force your sense of taste to take over and really enjoy the flavors, the fruits of your labors. Of course, should you be dining on a date or even with a pal, look at your mate and smize with the knowledge that you have staved off hunger. You are victorious in your battle against starvation, that most regular of offenders, the routine pang that continues to creep. The battle may be won, but the war rages on, like Bizarro Les Miz. You have won, friend-o, for now.
Special thanks to the Musical Johnson Household for their hospitality, photography and fellowship in sharing the bounty of our labors. Make friends and make food with them and eat it and enjoy it.