Corrupted Palate: A Chicken Summer
I grew up on a farm in North Bolton and we had chickens. I have no problem eating chicken, since I hated those beaky, cheeky pecking machines. They were mean and stupid. (Unlike the pigs, who were smart and unexpectedly clean, and the piglets were adorable. I am a little ashamed to eat pork. Well, except for bacon.) My least favorite chore was to feed those vicious monsters. I never escaped unscathed – I think they knew I was already looking forward to eating them. On the other hand, one of my students raises chickens, and I have to admit that they are beautiful. One breed has feathers that look like lace and little tufty feathers over its claws like adorable little shoes. But to tell the truth, a couple of pretty chickens haven’t gotten me over that ingrained dislike of them and my love of eating poultry. It is the ultimate revenge.
I could eat grilled chicken all summer and mostly do. It’s our go-to meal on the porch on a Saturday night and we never tire of it. Marinated, precooked for a bit in the microwave and then finished on the grill, it just begs for some salad. Don’t get me wrong – I love that grilled beef, too, but when it’s hot and humid, something about chicken just seems to taste better.
I love experimenting with the marinade. An article in “Cooks Illustrated” warned me that a marinade should never contain acid, like vinegar or lemon juice, since it reacts with the protein and makes it mushy. The article recommended a balance of sweet and salty, in addition to brining the meat. (I’ve never been brave enough to brine. I need to get over that.) So my favorite marinades include olive oil, soy sauce, molasses, and a few drops of sesame oil. I’m terrified of undercooked chicken since a dinner party where I served medium rare chicken paprika to my family – they’ve never let me forget it. So I put the chicken, marinade and all, into the microwave until it’s essentially cooked.
We once had some lovely guests and I had grilled a huge platter of chicken. Before dinner, my husband had offered them a tour of the house. We came back to the table to discover our neighbor’s dog leaning over the platter with one piece in his mouth. We shooed her off, cleaned up the chicken and proceeded to dine. One guest stopped mid-mouthful to cough and then pull a dog hair from her mouth. I gasped. She looked up at me, grinned and said, “Just kidding.”
One of the joys of grilled chicken is the leftovers. I love chicken salad, curried or with chunks of avocado and mango or with celery and grapes, and the grilling adds such a wonderful layer of flavor. And before the weather became more summery, a hearty shepherd’s pie with that chicken was perfect on a chilly night. But my absolute favorite is to just slice up that cold chicken, layer it with the leftover salad, and feast.