Written by Sarah Hamilton.
Photos courtesy of Amanda Murphy, J. Kenji Lopez, and Maangchi.
No, unfortunately the fab doesn’t stand for fabulous. It is chicken fabrication this week and let’s just say I was not excited. On Sunday night, I had a nightmare about fabricating chicken. My classmates were there and chickens were there and I don’t remember much about it except that I woke up in a cold sweat, feeling panicked.
It is just a chicken, you are probably thinking. Maybe a little background will help you understand the anxiety I am feeling. I absolutely hated meat as a child. Besides maybe hamburger, I pretty much universally detested all meats. My mom would cut 3 little bites of chicken onto my plate and force me to eat them at dinner. I would hold my nose as I reluctantly gulped them down with copious amounts of milk. I still have a little bit of animosity toward my grandma who tortured me by making me eat ham. I swear I sat at that table until midnight because she wouldn’t let me leave without gagging down those bites of ham. I was a pretty stubborn child, but I could never outlast Grandma. I still to this day will not eat ham. Not that I’m bitter or anything.
As I grew older, I gradually starting eating meat and even liking some of it. But I’m still super picky about it. I won’t eat meat off the bone. I can’t have any bit of fat on my meats, the leaner the better. And even if we go to a super nice steakhouse, I never order steak. I usually order the chicken or fish.
Even now, I could easily go vegetarian. Not that I’m morally opposed. I have always been around hunters and fishermen and have been exposed to a lot of carcasses and meats. Think bear tacos. But still, at thanksgiving dinner, my plate is about 3 bites of white meat turkey and lots of sides. Oh and pie. Always pie.
So I walk into class Monday feeling super anxious. I notice on the way in a fellow classmate struggling. She IS a vegetarian and IS morally opposed. She is crying and I give her a big hug. I guess I’m not the only one with anxieties today.
We get into the kitchen and Chef demo’s how to break down the chicken. It is complicated, with a lot of steps, and my memory is definitely not what it used to be. I grab some gloves. I’m suddenly so grateful for the little latex barrier between me and the whole, slimy chicken. I pat it dry with paper towels. Ok birdie, we can do this.
First, get the wishbone. Mine comes out intact and I feel so lucky. I have memories of pulling it in half with my sister to see who got to make the wish. I wish I wasn’t cutting this chicken. Next, slice down the center. Carefully pull away the breast from the ribcage. Find the joint. Cut through the bone. Wow, my knife is sharp, did you know how easily they cut through bone? I better just move my finger. Pop the hip joint. Pull out the oyster. Cut the wing. Cut the drumstick.
I’m actually starting to enjoy this. Instead of needing to breathe into a paper bag, I find myself a little fascinated with the entire process. I’m reminded of another part of me as a little girl who wanted to be a doctor when she grew up. I remember when I proudly took a deer heart to school in a jar for show and tell. You could do stuff like that in the 80’s you know. Chef tells us to show respect to our chicken. It gave its life and we need to do it justice. I feel the pressure to make sure I do right by my birdie. So I’m slow and I’m careful, and much to my satisfaction, I have an eight piece chicken, ready to cook.
I seer my chicken golden brown and finish it in the oven. Super juicy and cooked to perfection. I make a veloute sauce to put on top and it is the most delicious chicken I’ve ever made. Ever. And there is something so gratifying about taking it in its most raw form and creating something delicious and beautiful. Like you’ve taken a dish from start to finish and as I take my last bite, I have to admit that this chicken is fabulous!