Domestic Feminist: Anachronism? (Or Roast Chicken 101)

There’s something about working at the kitchen table that makes me want to cook. Or maybe it’s residual vestiges of the Sunday dinner concept– regardless, today I’m roasting a chicken.

I love roasting chickens. Beyond the product (which is pretty damn good), and the efficiency of getting several meals out of one task, I get this smiley-warm feeling of competence when this most basic of meal components is sizzling in the oven. I feel the same way when I’m making bread… I enjoy other cooking, but chicken and bread seem so fundamentally linked to centuries of women in the kitchen¹ that it makes me happy.

It’s a little problematic, this domestic bliss of mine. It doesn’t quite fit with my prevailing image of myself (feminist/academic/walking bookmobile). Those things that I want to be–that I actually am at a rather fundamental level–have always seemed to be at the other end of the spectrum from simple pleasures such as a well-roasted chicken².  And here I am, basking in the glow of a warm oven. 

The madwoman to my Jane Eyre seems to be Donna Reed.

I no more have a clear resolution to this seeming anachronism than I understand why roasting a chicken makes me happy in the first place. I could theorize for hours, but instead, let’s talk chicken.

The recipe that I’ve most frequently been using lately is from Epicurious: My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken. It’s amazingly simple, fairly quick and (besides the chicken) you definitely have all of the ingredients in your pantry.

(This is the baby-steps How To version. Roasting a chicken isn’t difficult, but I was totally intimidated by the idea before I’d done it. So in the interests of equal access–to roast chicken if nothing else– here ya go.)

Ingredients: 

  • 2-3 lb chicken (today’s version is 3.5, I’ve used this recipe for one a pound larger. Just adjust the time a tad³.)
  • Salt

Steps:

  1. Prep– preheat the oven 450°; empty at least one side of your sink (chicken juice is gross, you don’t want that dripping on anything but the drain); get out the pan you are going to cook in (I’m using my iron skillet this time, I’ve used a Pyrex baking dish and a cookie pan in the past. Don’t use a cookie pan, the juices will just drip straight into the bottom of your oven–smoky mess. But anything that’s oven safe and has an edge should work.)
  2. Wash the chicken and pull out the giblets [the innards]. This is the grossest part of the process. I understand. I hate this too. It’s disgusting- and a whole chicken somehow seems so much more like an animal than a chicken breast–the ribcage is the same size as my dog’s. It’s disturbing. I come close to turning vegetarian when I do this–but then I remember bacon, and change my mind. Persevere, you can do this. Make sure you get all the innards all out, rinse everything well, and don’t touch anything else until you wash your hands.
  3. Using paper towels, pat the chicken dry.
  4. Truss4 the chicken. I could explain, but this video is quick and clear. And he’s funny.
  5. Salt like crazy. Go nuts.
  6. Cook for 50-60³ minutes.
  7. Eat. Standing over the stove, dipping in honey-mustard. Seriously, it’s oh-my-god good. Just don’t burn your fingers.  

That’s it! I mean, how easy is that? Plenty of time left to ponder the contradictions in my character. Or for whatever you are doing today.

¹I’m obviously not saying that the idea of ‘women in the kitchen’ is a good thing. Women have been responsible for the invisible, so-called unimportant labor which civilization requires for centuries. It is not somehow part of gender identity to prepare the meals. I think it’s more the continuity of history that appeals to me. Or maybe it just makes me feel like my granny.

²I am definitely not trying to reduce, frame or critique anyone else’s version of feminism or any other sort of lived experience. I’m just saying it seems weird to me, and the fact that it seems weird to me is also weird. And I’m weird, but you knew that already.

³I know- now you’re cursing me because I said it was easy and now I’m being vague about how long to cook it. If you enjoy cooking the chicken–if you get the warm-smiley feeling of competence that I referenced above–then pick up a meat thermometer. (I have this one from CDN and I love it: measures the temp of the meat, the temp of the oven and has handy-dandy alarms for both.) If you’re working without one, though, use this rule of thumb from NPR400 °=15 minutes a pound. So my 3.5 pounder was done perfectly at 52-53 minutes. 

 4I’ve roasted dozens of chickens without trussing. It’s not crucial, the chicken won’t escape if he’s not tied up. The purpose is to plug up the holes (the cavity into which you were just delving) so air doesn’t circulate and dry the meat out. If you stuff the chicken, with herbs or citrus, this eliminates some of the air flow. Since this recipe doesn’t call for any extras, it isn’t a bad idea to tie it up. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, skip it. You’ll survive. 

(Do footnotes make you as happy as they make me?I love them. It’s like a sticky note from the author.) 

Because this song is in my head so very frequently that you need to know it too. And it’s vaguely on topic. 


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