Sunday, August 5, 2012

Quickie Chicken

When I was a little kid, I used to enjoy chicken skin. And then one day, I must have been 6 or 7, I sat there at the dinner table. I remember that old dinner table, big black formica top and curling iron legs below. I never realized until just now how odd it was that we had a round dinner table, rather than a rectangular one. I think that it made the dinners more comfortable, more intimate, while rectangular dinner tables feel much more formal. I miss that table very much. I miss my mother's kitchen, with walls of spices and copper bunt cake pans in the shapes of fish.

In any case, there I was, eating chicken. Maybe it was that the skin that night wasn't quite so crispy, or maybe it was just me. I looked down and it suddenly occurred to me. I was eating skin. Skin. Something about the very concept of it horrified and disgusted me. I put the skin down and walked away. Well, figuratively at least. I never ate chicken skin again.

And this wasn't as much of a sacrifice as many people think. God, I sound like a schmuck vegan, suddenly. But often when chicken was served, whether at a barbeque or a carnival or in school, the skin would be greasy and rubbery and very unpleasant. I used to get so annoyed with barbeque chicken in particular, because it seemed that the chicken was always burned, and any sauce or flavor was wiped on the skin so that when I removed it, I had purely unflavored chicken. It wasn't very good. And always that unpleasant rubbery skin which I would peel off and throw away.

Some of this taste has carried to me today. When I barbeque, I don't like large burned areas- I feel that the taste of charred carbon is unpleasant. It took me a long time to realize that when people referred to grill marks, they didn't mean the centimeter-thick black carbon deposits often found on grilled meat. When I barbeque my meat, among other things, I turn it frequently. This allows the sauce to have a chance to caramelize without burning, something I find to be very important.

Back to the chicken, a few months ago I started to make chicken in a new, very easy way. And what I discovered was that, after 20 years, I enjoyed eating chicken skin again. When I make it, at least. The trick is spicing it properly, and getting it crispy.

I usually take a few chicken legs at least (often pretty cheap at the supermarket) and place them in a pyrex casserole dish. Stuffing underneath is nice but optional. Sprinkle on top (and on the bottom if you like) liberal amounts of salt, pepper, and thyme. I used to use a lot more spices, but I eventually pared it down to these three because I truly didn't notice any real difference/improvement. This is dried thyme, I should say. Shove the chicken into an oven preheated to 350 degrees for one hour. Without opening the oven, turn the temperature up to 425-450 for 15-20 minutes (depends on your taste). What is happening is that the first hour was sufficient to cook the chicken, the last part is to crisp the skin up. Then simply remove from the oven and allow the chicken to sit for 10 minutes. The skin will be crispy and flavorful, the meat tender and juicy.

Not a complicated recipe by any means. But some days when I get home, I want something tasty and comforting, and I am too tired or lazy to do anything remotely elaborate. This is one of the dishes I make. Simply sprinkle salt, pepper and thyme onto some chicken and shove it in the oven. Sometimes simple is best.