Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Bird Is The Word

Bird Is The Word

There's a bird in the oven.

Now read carefully for a change. I wrote "bird" not "bun." As far as I know, there is no bun in any oven in my immediate family. Not that I would hear about it if there were. I'm usually the last to know these things.

But there is a bird in the oven. I am roasting a hen. At least, I hope it's a hen. I once bought a capon to cook. A capon is a castrated rooster, sort of a eunuch strutting around the hen house and wanting to wallpaper. At the time, I thought that a bird is a bird, a chicken a chicken, so I made the mistake of thinking that a capon was a regular chicken with a French name and a decent price tag. Quite frankly, it tasted a bit on the wild side. Perhaps that unsavoury taste was because it had led an unsavoury life, walking on the wild side. I'm not sure.

I don't doll up my chicken when I cook it. Going into the oven is not like going to the prom. So I just try to be respectful and keep things simple. Most of the time, I just splash a little paprika as a kind of rouge to give the poor, pale hen a little colour, and send her on her way into the fires of Maytag to roast and tan for a while.

I know, I know. Some of you like to smear and rub a fancy sauce over her breasts or a sprinkle a line of herbs around her bum. Some people even like to bathe their hens in curry and cumin, but those are folks searching more for nirvana than for a decent meal. No, when it comes to cooking, I'm a minimalist, I'm afraid. I like the taste of chicken, pure and simple. If she were a duck, I might concede to fixing her up with a few oranges along her wings and thighs, as in duck a l'orange. You see, I know about ducks, and I know why ducks need that splash of a l'orange. After all, I have been to Chinatown, and I've seen where those ducks hang out all day long.

Over the years, I have discovered that timing is everything when it comes to roasting a hen. Burn the poor barnyard beast, and there's no saving dinner. You can removes the charred remains of the skin and make believe that the fleshy part is still OK, but it's not. You may as well open a can of Alphaghetti, because you won't be enjoying the flavour of chicken if she comes out like a sautéed Salem witch strapped to a stake.

Burnt is burnt, and that taste of charcoal runs deep. I cook my fine defeathered friend for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees, mainly because someone once told me that anything less than 350 degrees is courting food poisoning and anything more than 45 minutes toughens the texture of the meat. I'm no Take Home Chef (and why doesn't that flamboyant Aussie ever take home a guy?), but the 350/45 combo seems to work every time.

After the foreplay of cooking, the serious business of eating begins. Now, there have been times in my life when I have eaten my hen right out of the roasting pan, times when I have picked at her bones right over the sink with little or no fanfare regarding the whole concept of dinner. These days, however, I prefer to make a "proper" meal. That involves preparing some kind of side dish — vegetables or a salad — something to recall those wonderful sit-around-the-table family dinners when I was a kid. At the very least, I now open a can of French style green beans, and add them to a plate of some sort. I have even taken to sitting at a table. Granted it might be a TV table, but somehow that still counts as better than eating over the sink. That way, I feel as though I have created a complete meal.

Well, almost. No meal is complete without dessert. I have found that the best dessert to serve after eating any dinner is something with custard in it. I'm a big fan of custard, despite the fact that it has fallen in popularity over the years. I suspect it's a bit too Brit-white for most people these days. Too many people are into couscous, whatever that is, and other exotic desserts. Not me. If you come for dinner at my place, expect some custard over fresh blueberries or seasonal fruit. Mmmm. Deliciously bland, and oh so politically incorrect these days, but I like to think of it as my own version of Custard's Last Stand, the last bastion against the Arab-Asian-Wannabe world of culinary arts that we now live in.



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