Giblets are just fowl

Last night, I knocked an item off the List: I roasted a chicken for the first time. I was right to be fairly nervous about it. There is such a science. Or maybe it’s kind of a lack of science. Yeah, it’s more a grasp of improvisation in the kitchen one must have to successfully cook a chicken. It involves lore and methods and conflicting theories, and mild distrust of all of the above.

I like to follow directions the first time I cook something. Get the basics down the first time around, and then deviate some other time. But with the chicken, I did have a tiny bit of a vision for how I wanted it to look, glowing and golden atop a bed of lightly caramelized vegetables in my lemongrass-colored Le Creuset oval baker. Slightly misguided, I know, to fashion my first chicken attempt after imagery from episodes of Tom and Jerry I watched as a child, but whatever.

I started with a simple recipe from the Joy of Cooking. I knew enough to remove my organic free-range chicken from the packaging and reach inside for the bag of giblets. Except there was no bag of giblets. There were just giblets, chillin’ in there, wild and free. I pulled out the trash bin and worked as quickly as I could, trying not to stop and think about the fact that I was holding in my hand the heart of a once-living creature. Ew and blech. When asked later why I didn’t reserve the innards for stock, I had to admit that, as a first-timer, I just couldn’t do it. It’s bad enough to actually have to touch a chicken that much. (I think I washed my hands more times last night than I have in the past month.) In case I haven’t said it yet, ew.

So I rubbed the chicken with oil (washed hands again), stuck some poultry herbs in the cavity (again with the hand washing), and finally got ‘er in the oven. I set the timer and set about the business of chopping root vegetables, dousing with olive oil, and spicing to taste. I added the veggies to the pan about 45 minutes into the cooking time. Soon after, my guests arrived.

I had warned these folks they were in for an experiment, which was confirmed when the timer finally rang, and out of the oven came a chicken this short of still clucking. The thermometer, when sunk into the deepest part of the thigh (not touching the bone!), climbed lazily to about 140 degrees when I was looking for a more sprightly hop to 160. Back in the oven she went. After another interval, still no love.

I was very lucky at this point in my choice of dinner guests. Not only were they exceedingly patient, but they both also knew their way around a bird. So at this point, we were over two hours into cooking time for a 4.3 pound chicken and were discussing what could have gone wrong. This was when Dave finally offered up the following: “Oh, our oven temperature is about thirty-five degrees below what it’s supposed to be.”

I see.

So we cranked ‘er up to 500, tossed the bird back in, and about ten minutes later (we were about two and a half hours in at this point), it FINALLY started to smell like chicken. Three holes of Wii golf later, out came the chicken. The thermometer gleefully jumped past 160, and soon the browned-up bird was carved atop her bed of yams and taters, just as envisioned. And man, was it delicious.

As we happily munched, one of my guests posed this fill-in-the-blank scenario: “So if we hadn’t been here…” To which I quickly and accurately relpied, “The whole thing would be in the trash and we’d be eating pizza right now.”

But I’m glad they were there, and I’m glad I saw the task through to completion, because somewhat like the unexplainable moment when you’re learning to drive stick, I get it now. And damn, was it delicious.

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