As the descendent of an old world Russian Jewish grandmother who spent more time preparing a chicken than I spent preparing for my wedding day, I should know how to prepare a chicken. The problem is, Costco offers a great deal on rotisserie chicken . . .
Back in the day, my grandma didn’t have Costco. She barely had refrigeration. My tiny, 4’10” babushka “GG,” who wasn’t much bigger than a chicken herself, had to wrangle live birds and lasso them over her shoulder like a Texas rodeo cowboy to put dinner on the table. She’d pour scalding water over the chicken, plunk herself down on her back stoop and patiently pluck out all the feathers, in much the way I remove grey hairs from my head.
There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears (and that was just grandma). GG went to a lot of trouble harvesting those chickens. But she didn’t mind the sacrifice. For her, feeding the family was a labor of love. Everything she made was from scratch, no short cuts. GG wouldn’t have known Shake ‘n Bake if it hailed down from the sky.
Reminiscing over an 8-wing value meal recently, I realized how extraordinarily unlegendary my own story is compared to GG’s. Not only have I never harvested a bird, the only thing I’ve ever cleaned and dressed besides my own kids for class picture day is a head of lettuce. If you ask my kids who prepares their chicken dinner they’ll tell you, “Colonel Sanders.”
To honor GG’s spirit, I decided I would learn how to bake a whole chicken just the way she did, minus the brutal killing.
I visited the grocery store and perused the chicken section. So many chicken choices: soup chickens, roaster chickens, free range “this bird was loved ‘til it died” chickens. I settled on the “on sale” chicken and brought it home. I rinsed it and patted it dry like GG used to so the skin would come out crispy. I set it down on the counter and for the next hour stared dumbly at a dead chicken, pondering things like: How far can a headless chicken run before dropping dead? How many chicken wings does Hooters sell a year? And, what exactly IS a Cornish Game Hen?
Then, since this headless, pale and pimpled chicken corpse lying on the counter wasn’t going to prepare itself, I looked up “Baked chicken for Dummies” on the Internet where I found guidance on everything about how to make a chicken, except how to place the bird in the pan.
Flummoxed, I turned to my devoted Facebook friends. “How do you flip the bird when you bake a whole chicken? Breast up or breast down?” Being the devoted friends they are, they came through with sage advice:
“Men always prefer breasts up,” quipped one Facebook friend.
“I hate my stove, so I usually just use my middle finger,” answered another.
One friend advised me to stand it up on an open can of beer.
I tried it breast up. Breast down. In a box. With a fox. With green eggs and ham. I even tried sitting the bird on a beer can. But that just made it hard to drink the beer.
No way looked right. On a wing and a prayer I threw the chicken in the pan, where it landed breast down. I tossed on some salt, a few carrots and onions like GG used to, and stuck the bird in the oven.
One hour and forty-five minutes later I proudly carried my perfectly browned, breast down baked chicken that didn’t come from Costco, to the dinner table.
I didn’t even mind when my husband, a far more experienced chef than me, innocently wondered aloud why I had cooked the bird upside down. I reminded myself that it didn’t have to be perfect, it just had to be a labor of love. After all, I had baked a chicken for my family without flipping the bird.
How do you flip the bird when you bake chicken?
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