If a chicken could think, would it think: “There is more to me than white or dark meat, ya know”?
As I get ready to spend my early afternoon in the kitchen preparing chicken dinners, I reflect on the individual parts every ingredient plays in the staging of a flavorful, finger-lickin’ meal of simple fried chicken. How each delicate portion of carefully considered spice and herb must feel knowing they are contributing to the pleasure of a palate. Which, comparatively speaking, is like pleasing the Dalai Lama with our behavior, as humans. And a chicken dinner is, in fact, more than just white or dark meat. Let’s give it the respect it deserves, and not take it for granted any longer, shall we?
Chefs are taught early in their schooling to respect food as they would respect an aging grandmother ... or, Wolfgang Puck. To throw away a usable ingredient is like tossing away a child before it’s had the chance to prove it can be valuable to society. Yes, folks ... it’s that serious. To those of us that love food, and downright seemingly worship the components that bring a dish together as a palatable, sweet or savory (or both) taste of potential heaven, respect is paramount! Ironically, we can learn a lot from a chicken dinner.
As I thoughtfully, and respectfully, gather and prep my meals ingredients; I think about how even food must use teamwork to build a truly successful and delicious meal, and, how if even one spice or herb is out of line the whole dish is not what it could be—if not totally ruined. One bad “too much” or “too little” of anything spoils the whole dish. You see, it doesn’t only apply to a basket of apples.
I think about the chicken checking its skin in the mirror, making sure it’s pimpled fat is nice and straight, wrapped snuggley around it’s meat so that when fried, it possesses that golden, crunchy coating in as many places as possible which separates it from the mediocre “chicken-in-a-bucket,” and instead, places it among the superior, in “looks delicious!” categories, which after all, must be every chicken’s dream as it pecks the barnyard striving for the destination of “plump” to add to its list of potential assets for the meat-case choosing. I think about the pride the taut, swollen breasts hold in themselves as they fluff up in the mirror, and check their ribs making sure that annoying piece of backbone is not hitching a ride to the frying pan—like an annoying kid sister on a date, or that musician that hitches a ride to fame on a gigging band’s stage. I picture the fat, meaty legs turning about in the mirror checking for torn or missing skin, and broken bones which would ultimately cause it to lose this gig to a performance in a chicken salad. Sigh. I think about the wings that never learned how to fly because they knew where they wanted to go from the beginning. And it didn’t take flight to get there. Do they think “Ahhh—these days I get to go out with hot sauce and celery ... LOVE IT!”?
The potatoes, cooked yesterday are firm, and yielded to little pressure, perfectly salted, and already nestled with everything good to the dish they are called upon to be this time. Though these tender little morsels are “just a side dish” it is a fact, (ask anyone this side of Dixie), that a chicken dinner wouldn’t be the same without it! Much like a wedding wouldn’t be the same without the flowers. You’d still get married, but the pictures wouldn’t be nearly as pretty. So, yes, I think about the tiny, different looking potatoes called “fingerlings” rolling around in front of the mirror for their final “eye picking.” Confident that because they are different looking, they are the best in the world to eat. They just have to be thinking to themselves, “I’m the only place where being thin-skinned is a blessing” As the potato preens and gently scratches off a small area of its skin as if to provide final approval of its edibility, it smiles and knows its soon to be creamy interior is ready for the salt-seasoned pot of rolling water, which will carry it the rest of the way to the ultimate destination. Potato salad! It’s been a while since it’s mingled with its buds; pickle relish, onion, mustard, and a few other secret friends … sigh. It will get a good night’s rest after a fun day of boiling, in a chilled fridge catching up with everyone—the party is tomorrow. Always tomorrow. They are at their best, for this particular celebration, tomorrow.
The green beans, known as “just another side” are fresh, bright green, blanched, crisp, tender, and ready for sautéing as they patiently wait in some icy water. Green beans are replaceable with any number of other side veggies. But their appearance is important when they are chosen. So they must be extra special in order to keep getting invited back. Unlike potato salad—they are more likely to be changed up with collards, or corn—so they have to take extra time in a bath, and in front of the mirror, grooming and making sure they are blemish-free. The day has come. Green beans get the job! They looked extra wonderful laid out in the store, glistening with a just-sprayed look; slender, firm, and bright green. Now that they are part of the chosen pound or two, I think about each green bean standing proud, with a fresh, crisp, spotless green jacket hardly able to contain its excitement at being one of the chosen few to earn its place on a plate, and eventually providing that tasty, tender, crisp bite, bursting with the flavor of its teammates—garlic and olive oil, and dashes of its BFFs—Maldon Sea Salt and fresh ground pepper.
Sharp cheddar cheese is glad to be along, grated, to simply accompany the cornbread, the batter of which is at this moment, resting comfortably with a peaceful grin, waiting to be called to the oven. All the humble little spice and herb soldiers are in place waiting for their turn in the dish they are assigned. Satisfied to not be the “star” of the plate, they stand secure and knowing of their support position being just as appreciated and necessary as all the other ingredients invited to the dish.
So when preparing your chicken dinner—take a moment to think about how that poor chicken would feel having lived to just peck its way to a burnt, or rubbery, tasteless skin because we couldn’t care less about its journey or life’s purpose. Why, that would be like taking you on a long awaited trip to the Grand Canyon on vacation and then throwing you off the edge of it to certain death. Yes, folks, it’s that serious.
And from this moment on, you’ll surely know and keep in mind that your ingredients have lived their whole lives for this very moment! It’s their dream destination, their final exit. We owe them a proper knife skill, a thoughtful cooking, a gentle tossing, perfect timing, and ultimately ... an appreciative mouth.
I’m convinced that food, when it’s all prepped up, fresh, and chosen, waiting to be cooked——is much like we are when excited about a new job, or just a new day—doing something we love, and loving what we do. Though it may be difficult at first, start your new day knowing that even if you aren’t the chicken ... you are part of a delicious bowl of potato salad that wouldn’t taste the same without you, or one of the much-needed additions to the green beans rendering it a chosen delicacy—one of the perfectly placed spices or herbs that without you, the cornbread would be dry and tasteless.
Yes, in the end, it may just be a “chicken dinner” but it’s not just any old chicken dinner. This is a special chicken dinner. From the chef, to the chicken on down the line ... everyone showed up in their best way, to do their best job, for the best outcome.
Now, my ingredients are jumping up and down waiting for me! I have chicken dinners to cook!