My friend is learning how to cook and a couple of weeks ago posted a tweet that lamented the process. I sent her a reply promising to, at some future date, tell her the story of “the first time I tried to cook a piece of chicken and, though dead, it screamed at me.”
As she and I are both exceedingly busy people and it might be a while before we have enough uninterrupted time together for me to tell this story in its entirety I thought I would post it here (possibly again).
The first time I tried to cook real food for myself (as opposed to foodstuffs in the Swanson, Banquet and –a-Roni family) I was 25 and living on my own (well, with a roommate) in a two-bedroom apartment in Las Vegas. This apartment was great—the rooms were fair sized, there were two bathrooms and, the best part—the kitchen was open. Instead of a full wall behind the sink and counter, the “wall” only went up to just beyond the counter top. You could stand at the counter and still watch the television that sat at the far end of the living room. This detail will be important later.
I had been wandering Target earlier on this fateful day and fell prey to the siren call of an on-sale George Foreman grill. I decided that, to justify the purchase, that night was going to be the night I started cooking for real. I decided to start small, with real chicken and corn (which I still thought of as a vegetable)—a meal a former roommate used to eat all the time because she swore it was super easy to make.
The first problem I encountered was a lack of non-nugget based chicken.
The solution seemed easy enough: go to the store, buy a piece of chicken, and bring it home. Off to the store I went…
…where I stood in front of package after package of raw chicken trying to get my bearings.
Who knew there were so many different parts of a chicken that were cookable?!? This was amazing! And terrifying!
After locating the chicken breasts I found myself with another dilemma: bone-in? Or boneless? (Yeah, yeah, that’s what she said. Get it out of your system now. There are going to be lots of these.)
A memory swam up: that same former roommate saying that she always bought bone-in because it was cheaper and because it was easy enough to remove the bones when you got home. This is the important part of the memory: her saying that you simply took the bones out before you cooked the chicken and from there the cooking and eating were easy as could be.
It’s worth noting that, at this point in my life, I might have been kind of gullible…or that my memory was flawed. Take your pick.
Feeling smug, I bought a package of bone-in chicken breast and a can of corn and went home, where I promptly realized that I did not actually know how to get the bones out of the chicken. I also hadn’t ever touched real meat before and the idea was making me gag.
I stood before that unwrapped package of raw chicken in my kitchen and thought “hmm.”
I hesitantly reached out and poked the piece of chicken with my index finger and almost immediately felt my stomach threatening to force me to revisit my lunch.
Quickly retracting my index finger, and putting my other fist up to my mouth to keep the threatening vomit down, I looked around my kitchen for ideas. I needed to find a flesh/chicken barrier. The kitchen towel was too fuzzy. The packaging for the chicken had chicken juice all over it. The Styrofoam it sat on wasn’t bendy enough. I thought “ooh! Rubber gloves!” and then remembered that I didn’t have any. That’s when my eyes fell on the box that held my salvation.
I might not have had any gloves but I had Ziploc bags and those would do the trick just fine.
I pulled a baggie onto each hand and stood there with my Ziploc-mitts in a surgery-ready position and re-regarded my chicken…and its still firmly enfleshed bones.
The simplest thing to do seemed to be to just cut into the chicken meat around the bones to loosen the meat and dislodge the bones that way.
I picked up my knife in one hand, anchored the chicken to the cutting board with the other and…after a good ten minutes of poking and sawing, thought “maybe it’s time to invest in some real knives,” and put the butter knife down with a sigh.
“Crap.” I thought.
I leaned down to really look at this piece of food that was thwarting me. It was a simple (if now severely dented) piece of chicken breast with, instead of a few smaller bones like I had first thought, only one thicker bone running through the length it. I’d managed to widen the flesh around the top part of the bone enough that I could probably get a hold of it. What if I simply pulled it out? How hard could it be?
Turns out? Chicken bones are not inclined to pull out easily.
After a few tugs I got good and mad. This was a piece of dead yard fowl. I was higher than it on the evolutionary chain when it was alive; I had to be smarter than it when it was dead, right? How dare it not easily lend itself to my consumption? Stupid dead chicken, I thought and gave my kitchen cabinet a kick. “You think you’re better than me chicken?” I thought. “Huh? Do ya? Punk?” I poked viciously at it with my Ziploc-mitted finger. “Eff you chicken meat,” I thought. “Eff you in your stupid face.”
There was no way I was going to let a dead bird, no less a piece of a dead bird get the better of me. I was 25! I was all grown up! I would show that chicken who was boss. I was going to win, goddammit!
I planted my feet.
I shoved the sleeves of my t-shirt further up my arms (they fell back down immediately since I’ve never had any muscle tone in my arms).
I grabbed that piece of chicken with one hand and lifted it to the air with as deathlike a grip as my Ziploc baggie would allow.
I tilted my head from side to side and squared my shoulders.
I lifted my other Ziplocked hand, grabbed the end of that chicken bone and, after taking a deep breath in and holding it, yanked.
SKREEEEEEEWHHEEHHHAWWWWNNNNNNNNKK! Screamed the chicken.
AUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGH! Screamed me.
THWAP! Went the chicken as it hit the opposite wall of my living room and slid down to land somewhere behind my television set.
WHATTHEEVERSHITLOVINGFUCKMOTHERFUCKINGHELLWASTHAT?!? My brain asked wildly as I tried not to hyperventilate.
It took my brain, my breathing, and my heart rate a minute to stop racing. I stood in my kitchen, like a demented archer, one arm and hand still outstretched from having just thrown the chicken across the apartment, the other hand back near my ear, still holding the big-ass bone I had just pulled out of the chicken breast.
It’sdeadit’sdeadit’sdeadit’sdeaditcan’thurtyouit’sdeadit’sdeadit’sdeadit’sdead I thought, trying to calm down and then, finally, my inner voice of reason took over.
“Even if chickens do take a while to die and run around for a bit after you kill them, how would that specific piece of chicken scream? The vocal chords would have been with the head and that is most definitely not a head.”
Slowly I lowered my arms. My inner voice of reason was right…wasn’t it?
My stomach grumbled.
I put the chicken bone on the counter and took a tiny step around the edge of my kitchen counter.
My stomach growled.
Tentatively and slowly, like a
terrified housecat checking out a bug tiger stalking its prey, made my way over to the corner of my living room.
No sound came from behind the television set.
My television sat on its stand, one of those wire-racky/open shelfy things (also from Target). I got down on to my hands and knees and with wide eyes looked through the bottom and shelf on my TV stand to locate my food. It sat there, slightly dusty but stationary. Trembling, I reached through the open bottom shelf and with a single (and still baggie-encased) finger poked the chicken and then scrambled/crab walked halfway back across the living room floor, my eyes trained on it the whole time.
The chicken breast remained still. I crept closer, and really stared. It did not appear to be breathing with invisible lungs. Mustering up some courage I poked it again. Still nothing.
Deciding it must really be dead after all; I grabbed it and took it back to the kitchen…
…where I rinsed it off and cooked it on my “grill.”
It was delicious.