Editor's Note: Staff Writer Debi Terry has been enjoying a few days away from the office. Below is one of her most commented on columns. A new column will run in the Wednesday edition of the Express-Star.
I'll have to admit that there is nothing quite like the smell of home fried chicken cooking on a Sunday afternoon. Out here in Cornville, chicken is a staple. In fact, I think if you look real close at the food pyramid, you'll see a chicken holding it up.
Fried chicken is as American as apple pie, baseball and, back in the day, we said Chevrolet. Not so sure about Chevrolet anymore.
Anyway, I've got to give my grandparents and great-grandparents a lot of credit. They lived on farms. They had chickens. Live chickens. When they wanted a nice chicken dinner they had to go outside, catch the chicken, wring its' neck, pluck the chicken, clean the chicken and then, after all that, cook the chicken.
That's a lot of work for a nice home fried chicken dinner. My grandmother told me many stories of wringing and snapping the chicken's neck. I admire my grandmother for that. Shucks, the closest I ever got to wringing and snapping a chicken's neck is ... well, never.
I wonder how many women in my generation or younger can honestly say – without lying – that they have cut up and cooked a whole chicken? Not the kind that has already been cut up by the friendly supermarket man into all the correct, identifiable pieces. I'm talking about those birds who still look like a bird with the head missing. You know, the kind that you have to look inside and see if the guts are in or out.
And, of course, you're praying fervently to anyone or anything that will listen that the insides fell out somewhere along the way. Maybe somewhere in between the supermarket and home. Maybe anywhere. Anywhere but inside the chicken would be okay.
My ordeal with THE chicken came about 20 years ago (yes, it left quite an impression on me) when housesitting for a friend's parents when they loaded up the RV and set out to see America for a few months. Their daughter, my friend, came by one day and upon looking in the freezer said, "Oh, they left a couple of chickens. Why don't you cook one up?" I stared at her blankly. Of course, she was older than me.
"And ruin my chances for Fast Food Queen of the Year? I'm in the running, you know."
"You know how to cook don't you?" she asked in mock surprise.
"Sure, I know how to cook," I laughed. Ha! Ha! Microwave three minutes. Rotate once. One tablespoon of coffee for every cup of coffee desired. Popcorn, Pop Tarts – anything that takes five minutes or less. Shucks, I'm the Galloping Gourmet of the Microwave. I should do my own TV show.
"Sure, I know how to cook," I say (with my fingers crossed behind my back). "Are the directions on the side of the package?"
No problem, she says. Let the chicken thaw, she says. Put it in a pot, she says. Pull out the guts, she says. Use these spices, she says. Boil it or bake it, she says. No problem, she says.
Easy for her to say. She grew up before the microwave was considered a standard household appliance.
Where is your grandmother when you need her most? Okay, then, the Colonel? Yeah, the Colonel! He's found on many streets in many cities in the modern, civilized world. You just walk in or pull up – place the order –– and in a few short minutes – what do you know? Chicken! Cooked Chicken!! Seasoned Chicken!!! Ready to eat!!!! And, it's finger-licken' good!
So much for my fantasy. Back to the old, poor bird looking back at me. It's ugly. It's very ugly. No wonder my friend's parents didn't take it with them on their trip.
The moment of truth is upon me. The chicken is thawed. It's ready to be cut up. It's ready to cook. I panic. Is this what an uncooked chicken is supposed to look like? Are those a few little stubbly hairs I see? Oh God, are there any guts in there? Do I have to pull them out ... with my hand?
I can't deal with it. So, I plop it in the water. I'm determined to cook this chicken. My friend will ask, "Did you cook the chicken?"
"Oh yes," I'll say. No problem at all. Delicious! Most delicious!"
I turn up the heat. I put the lid on it. Good-bye chicken. I'll check on it in a few days. Right now I've got to pay a little visit to the Colonel.