Thursday, May 6, 2010

R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what it means to me to roast a chicken

We are rulers of the earth! We are the conquerors that planted our flag on top of Food Chain Mountain! We have the ability to farm, grow, harvest, butcher and delightfully consume any and every product of Mother Nature. And we do it so well, in so many different ways, feeding mind, body and soul all at once. The world’s culinary greats throughout the centuries have created delicacies out of all that nature has to offer. The pig provides bacon and prosciutto di Parma; The Tuna fish swims onto plates of irresistible Toro sashimi; the goose lives to give its liver. Sounds like a taste bud orgy to me! BUT -- Being on top of the food chain comes with a huge responsibility. All nature demands in return is -- respect.

Thomas Keller, undoubtedly one of the greatest American chefs today, in his French Laundry Cookbook, talks about “The Importance of Rabbits”. He explains his experience of killing rabbits, and the switch in approach, once the act of taking a life is performed. No longer is it merely a loin, or saddle that you sauté or braise. Keller took the rabbit’s life; heard the screams at the slit of a throat; felt the resistance of the skin, refusing to leave the muscle tissue bare; and carefully selected the most beautiful rabbit saddle, to glorify the plates of one of America’s greatest culinary meccas -- The French Laundry. That connection, the bond between raw product and processor, between taker and giver, changes the way we assume our role as the food chain’s last ones standing.

One of the most comforting and satisfying things to cook in a home kitchen is a whole roasted chicken. It fills the house with scents and warm emotions. The chicken was purchased, optimally, at an organic food market, or alternatively, was commercially wrapped and placed on a shelf at the local grocery store. It did not grow there, however -- not at the market, not at the store. Whether it was farmed in a tightly packed pen, or was free to roam its surroundings while still capable of flaunting its feathers, it gave its life to serve a purpose. The chicken was brought to this earth to satisfy our need for comfort, our hunger, and to bring back childhood memories from grandma’s kitchen. All we must do in gratitude is pay all the respect deserved to the chicken that bring that type of happiness to our lives.

How do we respect the parts of nature we consume? Easy. We listen and we learn. Like in any relationship, communication is key. The chicken will tell you what she wants you to do with her. She’ll ask to be taken out of the fridge for a bit cause she’s chilly. Brrr. Then she’ll want to rinse off, just water nothing more. She’ll ask to be wiped down till she’s nice and dry. After that, she wants to be tied up!! Don’t look at me -- she asked for it! So do as she says, and truss her. She’ll want to put on a gown of salt, pepper. And don’t just toss it on -- rub it in and massage her like the beauty that she is. After that she’ll be ready to head out to the 450-degree sunshine to get nice and crispy tanned. Don’t bother her; she deserves her alone time. After an hour more or less, she’ll return with the sexiest bronze tan, she just needs a 15-minute nap, and to quench her thirst (bathe her with a cocktail of melted butter and thyme) and then she’ll be all yours to barbarically devour! After she wakes, she’ll be more than willing to remove her bikini to reveal perfect tan lines, and separate flesh from bone, head to toe, till glorious satisfaction. You both lay there, intoxicated, and mutually blissful. Now that’s respect.

----- Take a deep breath, and we move on… -----

All living things, including plants and crops for that matter, though some sexier than others, demand the same amount of consideration and admiration. An orange, or any other citrus fruit, is a great example: try to Supreme (separate flesh from rest of fruit) a lemon, orange, grapefruit. There is only one way to do it, and that is because the fruit was born a certain way. The sections can only be extracted using one approach. Auguste Escoffier didn’t decide that or make that up. The orange did. The cow, with it’s many different cuts of flesh, is much more complicated and demanding. She has to have each and every part of her treated differently. If she’s going to visit the health spa, every body part will occupy a separate treatment room. High maintenance gets a whole new definition with this one. The ribs want to be smoked and BBQed slowly; the shoulders want to be stewed; the hip muscles want to be roasted; the lower back area demands a grill or sauté pan application. In return, she’ll come out as the most beautifully treated supermodel you’ve ever seen, every inch of her is perfection!

Bottom line is, we must be grateful and admire the abundance of culinary wealth that surrounds us. Learn from the product you use, how it wants to be prepared from start to finish. What we eat and how we cook it is not up to us. We are in the mercy of nature, which is something that we must gracefully applaud and religiously praise every single day in the kitchen, or at a dining table, whether at home or at a 3-star Michelin establishment. Listen to your products, respect them, love them and embrace the fact that they gave life to serve you. The least you can do is pay the same respect back to them. And make them perfectly delicious.


  1. can you please write a book or something... the way you write is better than what you talk about...

  2. Wow... that description of the chicken. I either need a cold shower or am having hunger pangs.

  3. You are truly a gifted writer!! I never knew! Keep these coming. hugs, Sheetal

  4. Hi Lee, If you keep writing like this, I might just start eating meat!!!! Very proud of you.
    Love, Dad

  5. No joke, I JUST roasted a whole chicken and reading this almost brought tears to my culinary eye glands, seasoning the anticipation of what may come next... both from your blog as well as from my kitchen. And yes, I'm hungry for more too!