Technology, bitter foe. I came home excited to make this recipe I saw in the Times, along with a fascinating article on Hungarian Hannukah cooking. Nevermind that I had really only read the article, and barely glanced at the recipe. I could remember well enough what kind of supplies I would need at the store–chicken quarters, Hungarian paprika, mushrooms, green beans, and carrots. But once everything was home, of course it was time to really follow a recipe. I’m not Hungarian and wasn’t about to wing this.
Yet. I’ve never been big on signing up for internet connection. As long as you can steal some from your neighbors. This had been the case for the past few weeks in my new apartment, the fluctuating, shaky signals that I’ve been receiving and doing my work with in one particular corner of the living room. But I wasn’t picking up anything. And after taking my laptop with me on a tour around the apartment, sitting on the floors of every corner of it, deciding not to bother a friend with looking up the recipe on their computer, it was after 8pm and I was starving, so I conceded to wing the recipe.
the Times’ version of the recipe that was not to be: Stuffed-Under the Skin Chicken
I know a little about bread stuffing, and had remembered seeing the recipe call for challah bread pieces to be used in theirs. I didn’t have challah, but I did have some pita lying around, and tore those into pieces in a bowl. Next I sliced up mushrooms and onions and sauteed them quickly in some butter. I beat an egg and added the bread and mushroom mixture to it. Not knowing it, I was following the recipe pretty accurately for this part and this part only.
I didn’t remember how the paprika was to be used in the recipe, so I smeared some onto the chicken quarters (and stained my hands in doing so) along with some salt. I turned up the heat and lightly browned the chicken quarters on their skin, then remembered the whole part about stuffing under the skin. Luckily, the skin was resilient enough after it cooled that I could still poke underneath it and fill pockets of stuffing.
After arranging the chicken above a bed of some green beans, carrots, and a bit of leftover stuffing, I was ready to put my dutch oven in the oven. Only when I opened the door to the new stove I had never used before, I realized that the whole time I had thought I was preheating it to 375 degrees, it wasn’t. By then it was 9pm and still starving. Long story short, I never did figure out how to use the oven. The pilot light hasn’t been ignited and I couldn’t find a hole somewhere in the side to hold a flame up to, or a metal coil, or any other way to trigger a possible electronic pilot in it. Ben and I called our mothers and our friends, to no avail. Giving in to failure, it was time to cook the dish the only way it could be, on the stove range. I found a can of chicken broth and poured it into the dutch oven so that it wouldn’t burn, and set it to a medium simmer. About an hour later I wasn’t happy with the done-ness of the chicken and, conceding to utter, complete and foolish failure, scrambled up some eggs and made toast and served that for dinner at 11:00, while the big red pot bubbled away in vain. Before retiring the dish to the refrigerator for the night, I took a peek inside. Instead of turning golden brown along its ridge of skin, the chicken pieces looked slightly bruised and bluish from the mushroom stuffing that you could see through underneath. The stuffing stayed in its place surprisingly well, despite the fact that the skins were peeling off the chicken legs and meat was coming off the bone by the time I stopped cooking. But it did smell wonderful.
So wonderful, in fact, that I packed up a tupperware of it and brought it with me to work the next day. There was nothing that could be done for that poor dish’s appearance to save its life, and the microwaved-in-tupperware ordeal did nothing to help. The bones jut out oddly and distinctly from the loosened meat, the stuffing stuck together like a firm pat of hamburger. The skin was just elastic, thick and unbecoming. But I took one taste. And it was delicious. The carrots were tender and plumped with juices, the green beans soggy but not in an unpleasant way. Homey and universal, it was one of the best recipes I had ever followed, even though I didn’t really follow it.