A Tale of Two Chickens

Their names are Bobby and Cissy, after the dancers on the Lawrence Welk show. Cissy is the one with the white patch on her head.

Technically, it’s four chickens–two live ones, and two chicken dishes. But “A Tale of Four Chickens” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, now, does it?

We got new chickens–chicks, really–last week. They are darling. When they cheep they sound like songbirds. They are palm-sized, so small that we don’t have anything to hold them except for a cardboard box.  At night we take them up to the attic (the only place they will be safe from the cats, one of whom has been eyeing them with obvious relish); during the day they get to roam around the backyard and eat bugs. Mmm, bugs.

It’s a little strange eating chicken dishes when we keep chickens as pets–pets with eggy benefits, as my friend Fernanda says–but we all love to eat chicken, especially when it’s coated in panko, fried, and dipped in ranch or blue cheese dressing. So we compartmentalize the meals and the backyard egg machines, and it all seems to work out fine.

We had just gotten a lovely bunch of Thai basil from the CSA (they also had purple basil, lemon basil and–get this–lime basil. Lime basil! What’s next, pomegranate basil? Chipotle basil? Cheddar basil?), so I decided to make some Thai Basil Chicken for the grownups. Of course, the grownups partook of the nuggets, too.

That place mat looks like it belongs in an ice cream parlor, doesn't it?

I make my children’s nuggets from scratch, because I find the packaged, processed ones only slightly less terrifying than the Michelin Man (who, obviously, terrifies me for reasons that I suspect have to do with my father, but that could be pure conjecture). Years ago the kids and I went to a playdate and were served a lunch of microwaved, dinosaur-shaped nuggets. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut, let me tell you. Yes, homemade nuggets are a lot of work compared to ripping open a plastic bag, but they’re worth it. And I usually make a large batch and freeze some.

I mean, it’s not like I make my own hot dogs, for crying out loud.

Anyway, here’s how I make my nuggets:

  1. cut chicken breast into pieces
  2. coat in flour
  3. dip in egg wash–this is my one exception to my ironclad rule to never pair chicken and eggs in the same meal, which is just creepy
  4. coat in panko, which are special Japanese breadcrumbs that make things especially crispy. I don’t know how they do it, but from what I know of the Japanese, I imagine robots are involved
  5. Fry in vegetable oil until golden brown
  6. Enjoy.

I can wrap shit in lettuce just like P.F. Chang (who I suspect is fictional anyway). Where's my restaurant chain?

Thai Basil Chicken

½ pound ground chicken (I made my own, using my Vitamix. Not to brag or anything)
1 shallot or small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T fish sauce
1 T soy sauce
1 T brown or raw sugar
minced Thai chilies*, Sriracha or hot pepper flakes, to taste
1 bunch Thai basil
cooked jasmine rice
large, wrap-like lettuce leaves

Heat coconut or olive oil in a large skillet or (preferably; ask me how I know) wok. Stir fry the onion and garlic until fragrant; add the chicken. Cook, breaking up the chicken into pieces, until the chicken is no longer pink. Add the sauces, sugar and source of hotness and stir-fry for a minute. Add the basil; stir and fry until the basil is wilted.

Serve with rice or in lettuce wraps.

*be careful with those little buggers. I mean it.

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You Did What To Your Chicken?

The spatchcocked chicken in action.

Long-Suffering Husband is a chicken fanatic. He could eat it every day, I think–just plain, roasted or rotisseried, with some Sal’s Sauce and bleu cheese dressing–and in fact, he gets a little crabby if his Vitamin Ch levels get depleted. So we eat a lot of chicken. I have joked that I am the Bubba Gump of chicken.

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to spatchcock a chicken. Yes, I know how naughty and/or painful that sounds, and I’m sure there are entire Internet forums devoted to it, and probably even a pride flag and a particular color of hankie to wear in one’s back pocket if one is a spatchcocker or spatchcockee. But in terms of the chicken, it’s just a fancy, old-fangled, fun-to-say synonym for “butterfly.” You remove the backbone and the keel bone, give the poor spineless chicken a hearty whack on the back, and she’s laid-out flat and ready to cook. The idea is that the bird cooks more evenly, with fully-cooked dark meat and moist breast meat (you’re giggling like a 7th grader by now, aren’t you?).

We lost a limb in the grilling process. Poor Chicky looks like he's just come home from Iraq.

Well, I’m here to tell you, spatchcocking works. The white meat was delicious, juicy and tender. The dark meat was delicious, juicy and tender. This may be among the Top Five chickens I’ve ever cooked, and I am eager to try spatchcocking a chicken to roast, with some lemon and rosemary.

If you’d like to try spatchcocking yourself, have a look at the excellent tutorial at CookThink. I rubbed my chicken with some olive oil, garlic, fresh oregano, dried rosemary and smoked paprika, but you can use any spices that set your heart afire.

A meal fit for Henry IV

We kept things simple and had a salad of our CSA lettuce with a delicious maple mustard dressing that I promise to post soon. In the meantime, some cocktail party trivia for you. Did you know that Herbert Hoover never promised “a chicken in every pot” if he became President? The slogan was used by the Republicans in their campaign materials, so it’s linked to Hoover, but he didn’t actually say it. Henry IV, however, did wish that each of his peasants would have “a chicken in his pot, every Sunday.”

JFK still did say that he was a jelly doughnut, though. That one we have on film.

Unique, Delicious and A Supreme Pain in the Ass

The summer roll assembly line -- I was the Henry Ford of wrapped cylindrical foods

No, smarty pants, this isn’t an autobiographical post. The title refers to summer rolls, which I decided to make as a potluck offering for a Fourth of July party. You know, because nothing says “I’m proud to be an American” like pan-Asian food.

(To be perfectly honest, I don’t know whether I mean that last sentence sarcastically, or not.)

More to the point, summer rolls are unique, beautiful and delicious. And unlike so very many delicious foods, they are pretty much fat-free, low-calorie and generally not-too-terrible for you.

They’re also a pain in the ass to make.

Look at those shrimps, all nestled up snug.

That’s why I did as much of the prep work (cooking the chicken, chopping the vegetables and herbs) in advance, and timed it so that I could sit and listen to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” on the radio. By the time the hour was up, I had two 9×13 covered pans full of summer rolls, all lined up in rows—much like the orphans in Madeline, only tastier. And covered with damp paper towels.

I made two varieties, because I’m an overachiever like that. The chicken rolls had mango, cellophane noodles, carrot, cilantro and chives; the shrimp rolls had cellophane noodles, carrot, cucumber, chives, lettuce and mint. Chicken cozies up to mango and cilantro.

We won’t talk about the dipping sauces that I made and forgot to take to the party, except to say that they would’ve been delicious. Hrmph.

My summer rolls and sauces were adapted from a recipe in the July/August 2010 issue of Everyday Food, but here’s another recipe from Epicurious that looks pretty good, to get you started. Half of the fun of summer rolls is making up your own combinations of fillings, improvising, using up leftovers, and imagining what will look pretty under the transparent rice-paper wrappers. After all (cue patriotic music), isn’t that the foundation on which this fine nation of ours is built? Freedom of choice, freedom of expression, and freedom to eat whatever the hell we please, on any day of the year?

Happy birthday, America.

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