I am reading a great deal of Buddhist philosophy at the moment, and while I was not expecting my focus on impermanence, suffering and egolessness to find a place so quickly in my cooking life, I am pleased (in a way that acknowledges, of course, that pleasure is impermanent and necessarily paired with pain) to say that the preparation of last night’s dinner became fairly Zen in conception, if not in substance.
It was supposed to be Arroz con Pollo, which I have wanted to make for a long time. As I started to prep, though, I realized that I had forgotten to buy (or had used up) some fairly essential ingredients including white vinegar and a can of chopped tomatoes. Thus began the suffering. It was clear that my impermanent, human plans would have to change, and a quick look through the kitchen revealed most of a bottle of Frank’s Extra Hot Sauce, a bag of red potatoes, and some frozen peas. In a transition that was achieved swiftly and with minimal self-flagellation, I abandoned the Arroz con Pollo and elected to try to duplicate the fried chicken I have read about for years, served at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, in Nashville. I wasn’t going to mess around with trying for a precise duplication, particularly since I have never had the real deal, but I knew I wanted fried chicken, I wanted it spicy, and I was going to serve it with smashed red potatoes and peas.
The chicken breasts went into a zip-top plastic bag with all of the hot sauce, to relax in the refrigerator for several hours whilst I went about my quotidian business. I did notice, as I rinsed and dried them, that they were unusually large, but my state of unnatural calm and acceptance of all things floating through the universe led me to think only that it was good that they were large, because I only had three of them for the three of us.
Come cooking time, I had my potatoes boiling, my oil sputtering in a cast-iron pan, and my three (oh Lord, I am not sufficiently enlightened yet to refer to my “unusually large breasts” without giggling) pieces of chicken were dredged in regular old flour. In they went, into the hot oil, skin-side down; the plan was that they would cook for 15 minutes on each side and emerge moist, crisp, spicy and generally irresistible. I set the table, I drained the potatoes, I steamed the peas, Sam smashed the potatoes, we seasoned the potatoes, I seasoned the peas, I turned the chicken at 15 minutes, admiring it’s firm, mahogany crust, and at the 30 minute mark I put the chicken on paper towels, turned off the heat, and summoned the boys to the table. At 31 minutes, Sam showed me the uncooked interior of his chicken. Musing about the fact that Buddhist philosophy could really give Xanax a run for it’s money (to the extent that one can muse while juggling a cast iron pan full of boiling oil and three partially breached chicken breasts) I turned the heat back on, put the chicken back in, covered the potatoes and peas, and finished reading the paper for another ten minutes.
[Okay, I did swear a little when I found out the chicken wasn’t cooked. It’s important that you realize that, despite my admirably Goddess-like qualities, I am human, too.]
The chicken was not cooked through after an additional ten minutes. After another ten minutes (a total of 50, if you’re counting along with me) it was cooked, and it was lovely. I revived both peas and potatoes with a run through the microwave, and my little family became a blissful hub of chewing and “mmm” ing. It was crisp, it was moist inside, it was spicy (although I think I’ll add spices to the flour next time, because I’m pretty sure they do that at Prince’s) and it was honestly worth waiting for.
Your Zen koan: if your tomatoes are missing, look South.