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Flavour Guy: Chicken with the bitsy guy

My dad was a bitsy guy. He never threw anything out. When we sold the house a short while ago, there were bits of everything: toolboxes with tools, toolboxes without tools, tools without toolboxes; cans of screws, bolts, and assorted hardware. Not that he spent a great deal of time building or fixing things, but they were there, just in case.

Similarly, the cupboard held enough pots and pans to start a small restaurant. The basement had hundreds of LPs, although he hadn’t listened to one in decades. The closet had scores of hats. I don’t think he ever met a golf cap he didn’t like.

I am similarly inclined. Our kitchen is stocked with gizmos. A dozen hats hang in the hallway. When will I need a fireman’s helmet? It’s there, just in case.

There is a shelf of Yiddish ‘78s culled from the house in which I grew up. One day I’ll listen to them. All I need is a working 78-rpm record player and a working knowledge of Yiddish.

I am often told that I look like my father. Occasionally I pass a store window, glance and see a reflection and mutter who is that old man. There are ghosts in the glass and they are mine.

One of my father’s joys was bbq-ing. The traditional rite of summer was burnt chicken. Larry Lazar was not a patient man and this was evident in his mastery of the art of fire. His approach could be called incendiary. Burgers, steaks, salami and chicken never had a chance. The coals were stacked high. The grill was over the heat. The meat was on the grill. What else was there to know? Then, he’d turn away to finish his drink. Within a minute or so flames would shoot up and he’d run back reaching for a water bottle to spray over the inferno.

I thought that everybody kept a water bottle in their bbq arsenal. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that good cooking didn’t require a fire drill.

However, I am my father’s son. I also rush the grill. I have to tell myself to slow down.

Let the fire turn to slow burning coals, let the meat and vegetables cook in their time, not mine.

It is only as I look back that I realize what I retain from my dad and what I can let go; learning, over time, how to cook the chicken without the burning.

My dad never threw anything out and that went, as far as possible, with food. I thought of him recently as I tried to figure out what to do with a freezer-burned chicken. This was an excellent large chicken from my friend Phil’s farm. It had been left, poorly wrapped, at the bottom of the freezer for far too long and was encrusted with ice. When defrosted, I was happy to see that there were no white patches of freezer-burned meat; however the skin had an off-smell.

After some internet research, I figured out that the fat, which was mostly under the skin, could be rancid, but that the rest of the bird might be good. I stripped the skin and fat from the chicken and steamed it in a large soup pot with onions, ginger, salt and pepper. This smelled great so I knew it was OK. The meat went into both a chicken curry and a chicken salad. You don’t need a freezer-burned chicken to do this but dad would have appreciated the effort.

Chicken salad

For chicken salad, take left over chicken or two defrosted or fresh chicken breasts. (If you are using raw chicken, steam it in a covered pot in a little chicken stock. Take it out when there is no pink in the meat or when a thermometer reaches 165F/74C. This should be about 15 minutes. Let the meat cool.)

Chop the chicken into knuckle-sized chunks. Mix this with a little salt and pepper, chopped scallions, and a couple of tablespoons each of tahini and mayonnaise. Let it sit in the fridge for an hour or two before serving. If you want a bit of a kick (as dad would) add a few drops of Tabasco or some cayenne and smoked paprika.

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