Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fuck Foodies

I have been debating whether or not to refrain from using profanity in this blog. While I’m making up my mind (and I would appreciate people’s input on the subject), I am going to get this one off my chest.

My anger only increases as I see that “foodies” stands pure and alone on the page, sans any squiggly red line. That means the word meets Microsoft’s seal of approval, in this day and age, the equivalent of making it into Miriam-Webster’s. Fuck! I just looked it up online. IT IS in Merriam Webster’s. Oh Gods of the Word, why have thou forsaken me?

Why all the vitriol? You may ask, “Don’t you, genteel food blogger, consider yourself one of them?” Fuck no. Let’s go back to Merriam-Webster.

Foodie: noun \’fü-dė\ Definition of foodie: a person having an avid interest in the latest food fad.

For the record, I ain’t never been the kind of person to follow a fad. I’ve been an eater since birth, and I’ve had a fascination with cooking ever since I called my Mom at work one day, and asked her what we had to eat in the house.

“There’s chicken,” Mom said. I heard the beep of a cash register in the background. She put her hand over the receiver, and she spoke a muffled, “thank you,” to some customer.

I looked in the fridge. Sitting in its plastic, tight, with red blood, pale and plucked, a whole chicken. I gulped, yet my hunger overcame my fear. I knew from experience that it could be turned into a browned, crispy-skinned, steaming carcass of goodness. “What do I do with it?”

With the patience only a mother can have, she said, “You preheat the oven to 400 degrees….”

So fad would not be the way I describe my relationship with food. Overriding addiction, yes. Fad, no. I will go a few parsecs out of my way for new food experiences, but not because they happen to be popular at the moment. More likely, because I just heard about them and now I must partake.

Words also have connotations. Images come to mind when I think of the word “foodie.” I see rich New York dickheads with too much time and money on their hands, sipping crappy Californian wine, and bitching about how nothing passes their lips that’s not organic, locally sourced, more expensive than my computer, and rarer than diamonds. Not that I mind any of those qualities in the items I imbibe, only that they do not necessarily make it good. And they do not confer any status or virtue upon those that consume them. Plus, you gotta eat. You only have so much time, access, and money. In the words of the late, great, George Carlin – “Drop some of your needs.” I’m sure this caricature does not envelop the vast majority of self-proclaimed foodies, but I stand by my prejudice.

The part of me that hates the word the most would be my inner writer. It galls me that the American population’s education level has sunken so low, (especially amongst the wealthier folks who follow this shit), that we have forgotten that we already have many perfectly good words we can use. If you need a word to describe my obsession, why not just call me a gourmet? Or, if you’re feeling snobby, a gourmand? Or, even an epicurean? Or gastronome? Though the last one sounds like I have an unhealthy interest in how it’s processed. We don’t need to make up cutesy new words like foodie to describe people who have a passion for comestibles.


My Mom’s Chicken via Thomas Keller

As always, you can get just the recipe, no commentary here.

This application demonstrates my dedication to knowing how to cook, and my desire to keep it real. For those who don’t know, Thomas Keller is one of the most celebrated chefs in America, owner-operator of the infamous French Laundry, nestled in the heart of the most pretentious valley of Napa. At the French Laundry, they give you a choice of tasting menus, coming in at $270.00 a pop. Yep, that’s $270 bucks per person, before wine. I’ll set aside my moral judgments, but you have to admit, that’s way more than you and I will ever spend on dinner.

At the same time Keller intrigues me. He is the consummate perfectionist. According to food writer Michael Ruhlman, at the French Laundry every pan sparkles. In any other kitchen, pans get coated with burnt on grease, turning the bottoms brown. I’m sure your pans at home have long since turned a brownish-black on the underside. Thomas Keller does not tolerate this kind of impurity. Every pan must be scoured until they shine like new. How do you know when you need a new pan at the French Laundry? So much of the underside has been scrubbed off, when you set it on the stove it tilts over, the handle now heavier than the pan itself.

Take it from me; the man knows how to cook a chicken. Because he’s cooked a couple hundred of them, taken meticulous notes, picked out the best qualities, and reproduced them every time.  Keller’s recipe seems so deceptively simple, you read it and say, “Duh, of course that’s how you cook a chicken.” Yet so many of us screw it up because we don’t pay attention to the details. If you follow his advice to the letter, you will cook a perfect chicken.

Except… we all can’t be Thomas Keller. We got what we got at the Kroger and we need to feed the tribe. What we can do is take his advice and apply it to our situation, and add a dash of what you really like. You like it the way Mom made it.


1 Big Ass Chicken
1 tablespoon Salt
1 teaspoon Pepper
1 teaspoon Half-Sharp Paprika
1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Sweet Paprika
1 teaspoon Garlic Powder

Special Tools

Lots of Paper Towels
Roasting Rack
In-Oven Thermometer
Thick Latex Dishwashing Gloves

Preheat oven to 450°

Admit it; what you really want on your chicken is crispy, brown skin. How? Put away that butter and oil. The enemy of crispy skin is steam. The less surface moisture on your chicken, the better the skin. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Get yourself a whole mess of paper towels. Start by stuffing them up into the chicken’s cavities, both front and back. Next, take more paper towels and rub that chicken skin down until it shines no more. Get it bone dry all over, under the wings and thighs too. After a few minutes, take the paper towels out of the cavities.

Now liberally salt the bird inside and out. You want it good and salty, not only because it tastes good, but because the salt will draw away moisture and make the skin crispier. It may look like too much salt, but remember, you need enough salt for the entire hen, not just the surface area.

Now you need to truss the chicken. Don’t get nervous. The point of trussing the bird is to give it a more compact shape so it cooks evenly. So it you end up with a Gordian knot, don’t sweat it. As long as you made the bird more compact, mission accomplished. Here’s a video. I picked this one because she ends up with a pretty ugly bird. Also, because she snips off the wing-tips. No one eats those things anyway, and they will burn at the temps we use to cook our clucker. You might as well cut them off and save them for something they are good for, the stock pot.

Apply the rest of the spices.

Put it on a rack. Put it in a roaster or a baking pan if you don’t have a roaster. I recommend lining it with tin foil for easy clean-up, unless you intend to make a sauce. Insert the thermometer into a thigh, careful so you get it all the way in the center, but not touching the bone. You only get one shot at this, so be careful. You do not want to perforate the chicken.

Shove it in the oven. Forget about it for at least 45 minutes. Do not open the door. You want a good constant temp, especially at the beginning. If you’re lucky, your oven has a glass door and you were smart enough to put the thermometer in a place you can read it. Otherwise, you will need to check it. If you cook a bird my size it’ll probably take close to 90 minutes.

Chefs talk about this concept called carry over. In essence, after you take something out of the oven, especially something with a lot of mass like a whole chicken, the temp will continue to rise. You want the thigh meat to hit 180°. These chefs will tell you yank the carcass out at 175°, or even 170°. Apparently, however, the laws of physics don’t apply to my kitchen, and the temp on my meat tends to drop like a rock as soon as I take it out. You’ll need to play with this. Remember, the French eat chicken rare. If you got some pink, take a chance. If you’re a pansy, wait until 180° before hitting eject.

Let the chicken rest for at least ten minutes. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Do not remove the thermometer. The whole point of this step is to allow time for the pressure inside that bird to ease and the moisture to redistribute throughout the tissues. Puncture that fowl now and the juices will pump out like a Texas gusher. You want those in the bird when you eat it.

Carve. I like wearing thick latex dishwashing gloves for this because they insulate the hands from the heat. Remember, Keller says that the cook deserves to eat those delicious medallions of flesh attached to the backbone as tribute. After I carve, I tear them out with my thumb and suck them down right at the cutting board, before I call anyone to dinner.

Notes on the Ingredients

Chef Keller advises you to get a 3-4 pound organic free range bird. Yeah right. I got people to feed and only one oven. I will not be paying $4.50 a pound for fucking chicken anytime soon either. I like the big ass Perdue Roasting Chickens. Fat Sunday birds, old enough to develop some flavor, weighing in between 7-9 pounds. That’ll feed a family of four.

Salt I use in order of preference for this, sea, kosher, table – any will do. Get your paprika fresh if at all possible. I love paprika, and I keep all kinds on hand. If you only have one, treble the amount and go to town. I’ve already talked about garlic powder in my last blog.

For the love of Buddha, do not buy the two-feet of “butcher’s twine” in the cooking gear aisle for $3.50. Go to the hardware section, find any un-coated twine, and pay $3.50 for enough to last you five years.

An in-oven thermometer is one you can stick in a piece of meat and leave it there while it cooks. Personally, I’ve had no luck with the electronic kind. The concept is swell, set the thing to beep when it hits the temp you want. Problem is, I’ve never had one last more than three months. The old dial-faced analog ones work fine and last a decade.

Tools for the Talent

I know, you’ve been cooking without thermometers for years, why start now? Maybe you’ve done okay without them, but you can do better. You know when that chicken’s done by sight and smell alone? I’m glad you do. How often do you hit the sweet spot? Where your chicken comes out moist but the juices run clear? I can’t do it. I’m guessing neither can you.

You can get by, but you can’t excel until you KNOW what temp you have, not guess.

First thing you need, a good in-oven thermometer. A solid one you can depend on. Like this one on Amazon for a mere $13. KitchenAid Cook's Series Stainless Steel Meat Thermometer
I’ve seen ‘em as cheap as $3. I wouldn’t pay less than $5 or more than $20.

Second, if you want to fry right, you need an oil and candy thermometer. If you don’t get your oil up to temp, you’ll have greasy food. Overheated oil not only tastes nasty, it’s the most dangerous thing in the kitchen. If you make your own candy, you already have one, ‘cause there’s no chance of making anything right without. Once again, I go analog, easy to read and can be trusted. I own two of these puppies. Taylor Classic Candy and Deep-Fry Analog Thermometer

Last, you need an instant read to test the temp on baked goods and anything else. What the hell, go digital. Once again, no less than $5, no more than $20. I like one with a good range, like this one that goes from -58° to 300°. Taylor Digital Instant-Read Pocket Thermometer

Women love chocolate, men like scotch, and ovens lie. You might also want an oven thermometer, just to keep that bastard honest. CDN High Heat Oven Thermometer

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