Since the start of bachelor living (I don’t really count those three years in Japan) I’ve been making an effort to improve my quality of life. I’ve made an investment in my surroundings, also taking an actual interest in what I wear, etc., but another of these great awakenings is taking place in the kitchen. I did a lot of cooking in Japan, but the only goal for those meals was to sate hunger – I blame the lack of familiar ingredients for the apathy. Now that I have the full arsenal of three American supermarkets within just a bit of me, and a respectable kitchen to work with, I can finally figure some of this stuff out. I’ve also thus far managed to bamboozle May into believing the charade of my cooking prowess, and it is my intention to let that deception ride on as long as possible. Neither canned soup, Healthy Choice microwave dinners, PB&Js nor pasta with just a jar of sauce dumped in is going to accomplish that though, so actual effort is necessitated.
Despite putting consideration into healthy ingredients and sometimes laborious preparation, I am always looking for ways to save money in the kitchen. To the average American, simply buying more of something is the answer, but I actually wanted to try a slightly different approach, especially one that would offer up a learning experience as well. So rather than just going to Sam’s Club for a big bag of frozen chicken breasts, I employed my Dutch eye to seek out two whole, BOGO birds for about 16 dollars – not bad for 17 pounds worth of once-living-creature. Seriously though, how can something that has to be fed, housed, raised, slaughtered, cleaned, packaged, and shipped to the point of sale be of such minuscule value?I didn’t really know how to go about turning the floppy, gutted carcasses into succulent food, but the instructions on the back made it seem simple enough. I put some wire racks across backing sheets to serve as makeshift roasting pans, and then once seasoned tossed them into the oven. I’m sure that there are all sorts of things I could do to better crisp up the skin and add flavor, but they all just add unnecessary sodium and fat. The instructions said to put some water in the pans below them, so with that they spent the next 2+ hours just baking away.
The next part of the job was something that legitimately interested me, carving the thing. Come Thanksgiving every father is assigned the task of skillfully dismembering a massive bird, but where does he learn this art I wonder, years of trial and error before the kids are around/old enough to remember a sloppy job? Having no innate knowledge of the craft myself, I turned to the educator of the modern world: YouTube. One can learn absolutely anything there, and I received a personal lesson from Gordon Ramsey. Not helping my cause was the inferior cutlery that I had to work with. My roommate bought a knife block shortly after I moved in, and it was clear that he opted for the cheapest set on the market. Not only is there no boning knife, but they are all dull, some rusting, and others with misshapen edges.
The first bird involved a lot of trial and error, and trying to locate the joints for dismemberment was a chore. The limbs and breasts went easily enough, but separating the scraps and succulent meat morsels from the back were just not going well for me. I eventually tossed the knife and carving fork aside and resorted to rummaging the bird corpse around and picking at it manually until it was deemed sufficiently denuded of nutrition. Fortunately though there was a second bird to practice on, and this one ran a whole lot less afoul. I did still work the remains off with my fingers, but any onlooker might have actually taken my intentional cuts before that to mean I knew what I was doing. My roommate descended as a vulture to pick at the carrion and unwanted skin.
In the end, I ate a drumstick to reward myself for triumphing over the 3.5 hour task, and shredded the rest of the meat for use in further culinary escapades. Once in that form, there are a great many ways that it can be used. Also, I know that a gravy could be made with the congealed juices, or a broth with the bones, but I was in imminent need of neither and instead reunited them with the giblets in the trash.
Overall I had a good time doing all of this, though it did command the majority of my evening. I’ve got some new cooking/man skill development started, though they would benefit from the practice that will come the next time I see these birds are on sale. The other byproduct of all this hard work was of course a a great deal of chicken, which sorted into bags and frozen shall provide me with cheap satisfaction for quite some time.