How to Bake a Chicken Without Flipping the Bird

21 May

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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41 Responses to “How to Bake a Chicken Without Flipping the Bird”

  1. Carl D'Agostino May 21, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    I can cook. While the kids were out playing when I was 3,4,5 years old, I stayed in the kitchen with gramma.

    • Main Street Musings Blog May 22, 2012 at 8:41 am #

      I wish I could say that. I was one of the kids out playing. I bet you have some fond memories of being in the kitchen with gramma.

  2. ComplexSymmetry May 21, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

    “who spent more time preparing a chicken than I spent preparing for my wedding day,” was a particular favourite of mine!

    Would love to see you have a cookery show!

  3. thelaughingmom May 21, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    Good for you! Ironically, I just roasted a chicken tonight. It is so worth the effort. Even my young daughter eats it. I sit mine on quartered small golden potatoes and carrots. Now, make some homemade matzo ball soup with the carcass. I have a feeling you are flying the bird at me right about now for the suggestion.

    • Main Street Musings Blog May 22, 2012 at 8:45 am #

      What a coincidence! Sounds like it was tasty! Great idea to use the carcass for soup. I’m so impressionable, I think I’ll have to have some matzo ball soup tonight. Only I’m afraid mine will probably come from the box.

  4. crubin May 21, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

    I always go with the rotisserie chickens myself. They are so flavorful, I figure I can’t top that. But I do make a mean turkey, and as I mentioned to you on Twitter, I bake it breast side down for an hour and then flip it, as recommended by the great Emeril Lagasse. And who am I to argue with him? 🙂

  5. morristownmemos by Ronnie Hammer May 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    A wonderful story plus some cheery guffaws. Did your Grandma fight you over who gets the wishbone?

  6. earthriderjudyberman May 21, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

    I’ll be smiling all thru my next chicken dinner (and many of them have died for my sins) as I think about your story. My favorite way is to buy a Butterball turkey, stuff it, have some water in the bottom of the pan, bake it breast side up (I think) – brown it – and then cover it with tin foil to keep the juices in. Just follow Butterball’s recipe. It’s no-fair, trust me.

    • earthriderjudyberman May 21, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

      That’s supposed to be “no-fail, trust me.”

    • Main Street Musings Blog May 22, 2012 at 8:49 am #

      A smile would be the greatest reward! I’ll try the butterball recipe. I do find that recipe’s on the back of food products tend to be good, because the companies want you to buy them again!

  7. Huffygirl May 21, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    Oh Lisa, you wrote this better than I could have!
    You should have called me – I used to cook whole chickens from scratch for years, until I too discoverd the church of rotissire chicken. I am now a convert.

  8. mj monaghan May 21, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

    Well, at least you weren’t chicken to bake it! 🙂

  9. Life in the Boomer Lane May 22, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    Quick, find the Freshly Pressed Gods! I love this. My mom used to buy chickens from the butcher shop and, although they had heads off and most of the feathers plucked, there was a fair amount of work involved to get them oven-ready. By the time the feet and neck were chopped off, the remaining feathers plucked, the innards taken out, and the chicken washed and seasoned and popped into the oven (always beasts up), my mother had developed a close personal relationship with it, rivaling most modern marriages.

    • Main Street Musings Blog May 22, 2012 at 8:53 am #

      Thanks for sharing! Sounds like we have some chicken heritage in common. p.s. Your last line cracked me up!

  10. Paprika Furstenburg May 22, 2012 at 9:19 am #

    Great post! Love the title. I make roast chicken once or twice a month. When you don’t have to kill and pluck them, it’s a pretty effortless dinner to put together. I always bake mine in the missionary position – breasts up.

    • Main Street Musings Blog May 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

      Thanks Paprika! It’s funny, I didn’t think my husband preferred missionary position! 😉

  11. sportsattitudes May 22, 2012 at 9:39 am #

    I’m too chicken to try cooking chicken. I can talk turkey about cooking turkey. I always know which end is up on that bird!

  12. debsimorte May 22, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    Funny stuff! I suggested roasted chicken and veggies when my daughter wanted something easy and delicious to make for her new boyfriend. I thought she had it under control after calling me every 3 minutes with questions, but when I got home and peeked, the bird was upside down and still had that little grab bag of unknowns inside. Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if they put nice surprises in there instead of extra parts?

    • Main Street Musings Blog May 23, 2012 at 9:17 am #

      Ha! I too have learned a lot about cooking by trial and error. And yes, it’d be great if it included a toy surprise like cracker jacks!

  13. introvertedblogger May 22, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    Pre done birds are so full of flavour it is hard to beat them and since I don’t eat it, and my family does, I buy the pre done, throw it on the table and do that dramatic da daaaaa, everyone clap and tell me how great I am. It works.
    I can stuff one, I did in my meat days, but I fear I am a woman of my times and take full advantage of our modern birds.

    • Main Street Musings Blog May 23, 2012 at 9:21 am #

      I love how they clap and tell you how great you are. That doesn’t even happen to me on my birthday.

  14. funnyortragic May 23, 2012 at 12:49 am #

    I never really had chicken unless it was done thai style–masaman curry, sweet and sour or cashew chicken. But turkey was a big deal for us. Besides dealing with the horror of grabbing the neck and liver out (eeew) my mom always cooked it in a brown paper bag stapled shut. Swears by it as a way to keep the breast moist. Try it and see!

    • Main Street Musings Blog May 23, 2012 at 9:23 am #

      When I walk my dog I sometimes use a paper bag, so I’d have to be very careful using that method.

  15. Perfecting Motherhood May 23, 2012 at 1:04 am #

    My mom, who is a great cook, has taught me to first bake the chicken breast down, then flip it at half time breast up, so it’s well cooked all around. I have no idea if the half time flipping is necessary at all but her chickens taste really good!

  16. BARB BEST May 24, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Flippin’ funny! Know matter how I spin it, my chicken is always rubber.

  17. Mom Meets Blog May 26, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

    No flipping here, just breast side up till it’s done! And I don’t know what a cornish game hen is either, but they look so cute. . .

    • Main Street Musings Blog May 27, 2012 at 9:18 am #

      And they sounds so fancy, but they’re just chickens!

      • Mom Meets Blog May 27, 2012 at 11:08 am #

        That’s true. . . I think I will give them a shot (maybe when they’re on sale!)

  18. Audubon Ron May 27, 2012 at 2:44 am #

    How many chicken wings does Hooters sell a year? 57 million lbs.


  1. Weekend Funny 5 | Barb Best - May 25, 2012

    […] How to Bake a Chicken Without Flippin’ the Bird Lisa Tognola […]

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