February 11, 2010

Me: Emerging cook, non-scientist… Hero?

Sometimes, new experiences can reveal your ignorance in delightful, tasty ways.

Lesson learned: If you let chicken get hot enough, for long enough, it will inevitably reach an edible state. It’s science. And science is proven.

For the record, the last science course I took was biology, and I got a B-minus.

I’m sure there’s a science out there that helps you get chicken to a tasty, edible and aesthetically pleasing state. This makes Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart scientists. Of that science. And I would fail in that science. Case in point:

I told you it did not go well. But how did I get here? Ooh, storytime:

Now, I hesitate to put all these pictures up because you’ll just look at the pictures and skim over all of my carefully chosen, meticulously crafted words. Oh, what the crap, you’ve already stopped reading and looked at all the pictures below. I don’t know why I even bother to write.

This is how it starts. Virgin chicken breast: Blank canvas, just begging the artist to craft it into a masterpiece. Except, I’m no Picasso. I’m more like a four year-old with a couple half-crayons, which will end up in couch cushions or up my nose, and a vague idea of what my final product might look like. No, as you already know, this poor chicken breast isn’t destined for a masterpiece. It’s most certainly doomed.

I would use flour. But the goose is so familiar and comforting. Besides, I didn’t have any flour. The box told me to put the chicken in milk.

Something about this doesn’t look right to me. But the box has ordained it. Also ordained by the box: repeated dipping in milk and Drake’s crispy fry mix. For the record, that is a very fat chicken breast, and this comes into play later. I’ll skip ahead to the frying pan. You’re just looking at pictures anyway.

Immediately, the chicken turned a pretty golden color. I swelled with pride. This whole cooking thing is pretty easy. I don’t know what I was so worried about.

I think 30 seconds went by between that first picture and this last one. After lots of probing and stabbing, I determined that the chicken had acquired a delicious cindery shell and maintained a raw pink center. I had chosen a poor method for cooking a very fat chicken breast.

At this rate, the inside would probably never cook. I decided that this was a failure, turned the burner off, and plopped the charred chicken on a plate.

I walked away with my head hung in shame. I reached for my cell phone and began to search for some pizza coupons, but something inside me whispered to me.

“Don’t give up,” it said. “This thing you’ve started: It’s bigger than you. This is a crossroads in your life. You’ve got a choice, Jim. You can whimper and retreat to a corner with a pizza box, and for the rest of your life approach a raw chicken breast as a mystery meat, leaving its mastery to others all the while growing increasingly dependent and subservient to those more culinarily inclined. You can let the chicken win. Or… Or you can overcome it. You can go back and… you can be a hero, Jim.”

Not being one to ignore inner voices that urge me to heroism, I set my cell phone down. I went back to the chicken and turned the burner on again. Breading be damned, I would get this chicken to an edible state.

And so I did. It took a long, long time. But as I flaked the charred coating of failure off the chicken, and each successive layer of burned shell thereafter, the meat did indeed reach an edible, thoroughly cooked state. Actually, that was kind of inevitable. It’s science after all.

Not pretty…

But edible.