the lifespan of a dead chicken
#16 the lifespan of a dead chicken
Newsletter #16! This was my favorite number growing up and all my AIM screennames ended with it: NiteSky16 and StellarChick16 to name a few, wow, what cool screennames. If you’ve found your way here by some miracle but are not yet subscribed, here: let me help you with that!
you know that i put this bowl on the floor to catch this dramatique light. i did that.
THE LIFESPAN OF A DEAD CHICKEN
While last week’s newsletter did mention this chicken in passing, consider this the companion piece I assigned myself.
Buy a chicken at the farmers market (or the grocery store, or a butcher shop, or a freezer on the side of a highway, wherever). Decide this 5.2-pound chicken is absolutely too large for you (one person), wonder why you’re buying a whole chicken that is clearly too much chicken for you (one person), consider not buying the chicken. Remember you LOVE turning one chicken into many, many meals, and tell yourself you will NOT let “being one person” prevent you from enjoying many excellent chicken meals! Get excited for all the meals, buy the chicken.
If the chicken is frozen (it might be, and that’s fine, frozen chickens are great), let thaw overnight in the fridge. If it’s not frozen, let it sit on your counter in a grocery bag for longer than it should because you’re busy putting other groceries away and then realizing you have a call in two minutes–oh fuck, it’s actually a Zoom–re-do your ponytail, make sure you’re wearing a sweatshirt without food or cat hair on it, and swipe on some lipstick. Wipe off most of the lipstick, you don’t want people thinking you’re just sitting around wearing lipstick because we all know you have nowhere to go, and even if you did, you’d be wearing a mask. In fact, just throw away all your lipstick. You only wear BabyLips now.
Have your meeting, remember the chicken on the counter, panic but remember that you’ve left raw meat out at warmer temperatures for longer, and you’re still here (but seriously, an hour in a cold room is fine, but, uh, don’t leave raw chicken out at room temperature)! Breathe a sigh of relief. Decide you don’t want chicken for dinner tonight after all, but you might tomorrow. Put the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet or in a baking dish, whichever place you’d like to roast it (no use in moving a raw chicken twice), and season it well with salt (at least a teaspoon of kosher salt per pound) and pepper.
Feel proud of yourself for doing something ahead of time for once. Write “season chicken for tomorrow” on your to-do list, and immediately cross it out.
Agonize over whether tonight you will roast this chicken low and slow or hot and fast. Both are great. Low and slow will give you a sort of sticky-skinned, fall-apart type of bird and hot and fast, something juicier, meaty, and your best shot at crispy skin, although you know in your heart of hearts crispy chicken skin is a white whale, unless we are talking about the butt, which is pretty much the only reliably crispy part. (I will go deeper into this topic another time.)
Go for hot and fast because you’re impatient and hopelessly optimistic. Preheat your oven to 425° and think, “Maybe this time my chicken skin gets extremely crispy.” Find half a bunch of thyme in the vegetable drawer on its way out of town and tuck it under the bird. Stick whatever celery you have inside the cavity along with a lemon you quartered three days ago for something else but never used.
Add another lemon, sliced not too thin (lemon slices are always the first to burn) and two small onions, quartered lengthwise, through the root (leave the skin on, you like the way they look when they get all papery and toasted in the oven, plus they’re fun to chew on.) Debate adding some small, quartered potatoes, go for it because the lemons and onions look a little lonely.
Drizzle everything with olive oil and give your potatoes, onions, and lemons a little toss. Throw the whole thing into the oven, and absolutely do not set a timer. Wait until you smell the lemon slices you sliced too thinly despite knowing better to burn a little before checking on the chicken, about 30 minutes. If you’ve got an old paintbrush from the hardware store you use as a pastry brush or an actual pastry brush, dip it into the drippings from the chicken and baste it a little. If you don’t have either, just pour more olive oil (which, yes, does grow on trees) onto the chicken before dropping the temperature down to 350°, popping it back in the oven so it can continue to brown and finish cooking (for about 45-50 more minutes—like I said, it was a really large bird, and no that isn’t a typo.)
Remove the chicken, eat one wing “as a tester” and the other wing “because you want to.” Leave the room for 20 minutes, do something of importance, or not. Come back, carve whatever piece you’d like to eat that night for yourself. Again, chicken for one absolutely rules (no, I am not lying to myself, no, this is not a cry for help!).
When you’re ready to clean up, accept you simply don’t want to pick the meat from the bones tonight. Shove whatever’s left of the bird into a resealable bag or reusable container or just wrap the whole thing in some aluminum foil and say goodnight.
Wake up and deal with the chicken. Pick the rest of the meat and be grateful you waited till the chicken was chilled since it feels nice to pick cold chicken. Have a few bites even though you haven’t even had your coffee. Put the meat away in little resealable (reusable!) bags or containers to eat later—don’t bother shredding or cutting into bite-sized pieces just yet. Right now, you’re just after the bones, cartilage, and flavorful-but-flabby bits of skin because today, on Day 3, you make broth.
Decide whatever you were thrilled to roast with the chicken is probably going to make for some great broth, so plop everything in there. The matted thyme soaked with chicken fat, the celery that steamed inside the bird cavity, the burnt slices of lemon you can’t bear to part with. The skin, the bones, the fat, the cartilage, the gristle, the tendons, the weird bit you suspect was a small patch of feathers—it all goes into the pot and gets covered with plenty of New York’s finest tap water (about 8 cups, but you never measure).
Consider abandoning the whole thing altogether when you realize you don’t have any celery because you used it all last night to stuff inside the chicken, and what is chicken broth without celery? Feel DELIGHTED when you realize you stuffed it all inside the chicken and IT’S ALREADY IN THE POT. Oh, beautiful day!
You know you absolutely love a very onion-y chicken broth, and good thing because you have approximately 14 onions at your disposal. Quarter one of the larger ones through the root, still leaving the skin on (this time, for the golden color it gives). If there’s anything else in the fridge you want to get rid of and that wouldn’t mind getting simmered for broth, you know what to do (add it to the pot). Resist the urge to add spices or powerful seasonings, knowing that this is your base broth, meant as a blank canvas for future brothy things and that can always come later.
Bring the broth to a strong simmer over the electrical stove you’re currently cooking on. Acknowledge electrical stoves are pretty cool and that you like the fun coil design. Maybe we should all switch to electric stoves? Turn it down after it reaches a boil, notice it’s still boiling minutes later because damn, those coils stay HOT. Move the pot to a burner that is off until the coils cool down; resume the gentle simmer.
Leave the room to let the broth come to life. Think about the apple cake you brought to your neighbors earlier that day, wish you had a slice right now, write down the recipe before you forget. Drink a whole pint glass of ginger kombucha and wonder if you should make your own (you shouldn’t). Ask your friend for a playlist of wordless music in hopes that it will inspire you to write a million perfect words (he says you can skip the ones that sound like “medieval depression” if that’s not for you).
thank you, yosef munro for this collection of vibey albums, i look forward to you scoring all my home movies one day.
Simmer the broth, check on it more often than you need to, because the only thing better than focusing on something is checking on a broth you know isn’t ready yet. Look at a working table of contents for a future book project you thought was great, stare at it too long, wonder if it’s too simple? Get up to taste the broth (needs salt). Open a tab for an essay you started in August that was supposed to be finished in September, write a sentence, delete the sentence, get up. Taste the broth (needs more time). Write a grocery list for the next version of that apple cake (needs buttermilk) and snacks you wish you had, get up, check on the broth. It’s simmering too hard–the bubbles should be small and infrequent but they’re large and constant. Turn it down to the lowest possible setting. Taste the broth, know that it really only needs about 10 more minutes, understanding that 10 minutes of simmering would lend a nearly imperceptible amount of flavor and so why not just remove it now? Because you know that it needs 10 more minutes, you just know. You always know.
Instead of pouring a scalding pot of broth through a strainer into a container that’s probably too small, set a strainer inside a large bowl or another large pot. Yes, another thing to wash, but there’s not a better way. Using a perforated or mesh ladle, ladle the largest, chunkiest, boniest contents of the broth into the strainer first, then pour the broth over the large, chunky, bony things (you have burns on your hands that won’t fade from doing this the wrong way.) Gently shake the strainer, convincing every last drop to come out of those tired vegetables.
Divide the broth into whatever containers you have. Old yogurt containers you saved for just this occasion, Ball jars with lids you can’t find— ok, forget those Ball jars—deli cups a.k.a. quart containers a.k.a. the best reusable kitchen storage containers money can buy. Keep half in the fridge, freeze the other half.
Soup on Day 4 with chicken from Day 1! Long live the chicken from Day 1! Start the soup by simmering dried chickpeas in half broth/half water. (Half water because otherwise you’d use ALL the chicken broth, and it’s really not worth it here to use ALL the broth to cook these chickpeas–half broth/half water will give you the same effect, I promise.)
Consider using canned chickpeas (which you’ve done before/is great), but feel like you either have to start moving through some of these dried beans and legumes from The Bean Club, or maybe just start your own bean club where you sell all the beans from The Bean Club you can’t get through. (As an aside, The Bean Club now offers a smaller, less frequent-style membership to current members to avoid this very issue! Inquire within.)
Add a large quartered shallot, a dried chili or two, and more than a few (talking, like, six to eight) fat cloves of peeled, crushed garlic. As the chickpeas cook, the garlic will go from sharp and crunchy to sweet and creamy and break down into the broth as the starchiness is released from the chickpeas, creating a slightly creamy, dare I say “rich” broth. Once the chickpeas and garlic are both where they need to be, this is your humble soup (mostly).
Retrieve some chicken from your lil resealable bag (breast is the best here), shred it into bite-sized pieces, and add it to the pot along with a stalk or two of thinly sliced celery (you bought more celery this morning for just this occasion, obviously), mostly just to flavor the broth with its bright, raw, green flavor. But don’t let it lose its snap—just let both the chicken and celery warm among the chickpeas.
Ladle this soup into your bowl. Add in a thinly sliced scallion (white and light green parts). Scatter it with celery leaves because, truly, have you had celery? It’s fantastic. Squeeze half a lemon over everything (or a splash of white wine vinegar if you’re out of lemon). Maybe a crack of pepper from your favorite pepper mill. Maybe a drizzle of olive oil. You may want to shave Parmesan over it. “That would be cool,” you think. Decide against adding the cheese, but cut off a little bit to eat alongside anyway. Manage your expectations for this soup and be overjoyed when they are exceeded.
this chicken went through a lot to get here.
For the full soup recipe (measurements and all, for both the dried chickpea and canned chickpea versions), become a paying subscriber and it’ll land in your inbox tomorrow morning.
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Up next week, this sticky apple cake.
I know you are staring at a bowl of apples and wondering what to do with them, so see you then.
Read this beautiful article by Wesley Morris about his mustache. Look at these photos of Timotheé Chalamet by Renell Medrano, read the story by Dan Riley, delight in Eric Kim’s Midnight Snack for Timotheé Chalamet series, wonder what it says about you that you’re so severely attracted to a forever teen? Feel the need to buy clothing on the internet since you’ve donated all your clothes in the great purge of 2020 and because now you only channel the energy of a ceramics teacher at a California Waldorf school you need some new flowy garments to match. Consider buying your first pair of sweatpants, wonder why all the sweatpants are sold out, decide on a happy medium with these flowy sail pants (no buttons!), be shocked at what passes as a THRILL these days (buttonless pants?). Buy new clogs (for the rain!). Buy new bras (for literally no reason other than you love these bras and you just wanted to do something nice for yourself, okay?). Buy a book for yourself from your favorite independent bookstore because that’s the only way they’ll stay open and jesus christ we really need independent bookstores to stay open. Send a book to a friend in the mail to surprise them. Submit your absentee ballot and track it here, more fun than Domino’s. ICYMI New York early in-person voting starts Saturday, October 24th and ends Sunday, November 1st, check your state to see if/when you can vote early tooooooooo.