Ode to a chicken
I recently lived one of the greatest days of my life. In the middle of the day, my roommate mentioned his discovery of a grocery store selling produce and meat of high quality. This came as great news, because (1) in almost a year of residing at our current abode, we never knew of this store, (2) we live in proximity to another grocery store, which in its name claims to be both “fresh” and “organic”, but for an alarmingly high proportion of its offerings, it is not only neither, but on the opposite end of the spectrum — selling items unabashedly past their sell-by date and visibly decomposed. Were an alien to land on Earth and start procuring produce from here, it would only know spinach as a gelatinous bundle with a glaucous patina covering it. Accustomed to this outhouse with a marketing team, I felt a twinge of euphoria at the news of another grocery store.
My roommate noted that the store offered humane-certified whole chicken at a very reasonable price. For a reason that perhaps originated outside of “me”, I decided at that moment that I will purchase and roast this chicken. Leaving the apartment, I felt as I can only imagine Frodo felt when leaving the Shire. Thirty minutes later I found myself back in the kitchen with a whole chicken staring at me. I stared right back.
The recipe I found online mentioned that I may need to remove a bag of giblets (organs and other offal) that the butcher often places neatly in the chest cavity. Upon initial examination I did not find this bag. Before seasoning the chicken, I decided to check one more time, and lo and behold — the bag rested quietly in the other cavity. At this point I realized that I had checked the anal cavity, not the breast one. You live, you learn, you die.
Nas once said “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” After years of reading and practicing Buddhism, I arrived at the same conclusion. It necessitates no sadness; if anything, it leads to a sense of liberation. Could it be that eons of insight passed down across generations amount to the same fundamental truth that one learns through growing up in Queensbridge, NY? I believe so.
End of Intermission
Next, I laid down some fingerling potatoes, baby carrots, and shallots on the bottom of the cast iron skillet, and placed the chicken on top. I liberally smothered the chicken in butter. Bernie Sanders had nothing on the amount of butter. Then a generous dousing of olive oil, some salt, and pepper. Lastly, I stuffed the chest cavity with a few cloves of garlic, four quarters of a lime, and a few thyme branches. This pot of gold then found its way into the bottom of the oven, where it happily spent its last 80 minutes as an uncooked meal, at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
I have to preface what happened next with a full disclosure. At this moment in time, my diet consisted of very few carbohydrates. My body became fat-adapted, ketones were fueling my brain, baby angels rejoiced. The caloric restriction had a consequence — I appreciated the hell out of every bite I took, savoring every ounce of flavor like a sailor holding on to every second of uprightness in a ship rolling and pitching amidst a storm.
So when the chicken came out the oven, and the butter-thyme fumes invaded my nostrils, I felt the anticipation mounting. I tried to level it off by reminding myself that I cooked this meal precisely zero times in the past, I hadn’t really done much besides add butter, and other futile rationalizations. Once the chicken had cooled off and I had a drumstick, thigh, wing, part of the breast, and a ziggurat of vegetables sitting gloriously on my plate, I found myself suppressing precisely as much anticipation of glory as an emperor entering Rome in a triumph.
Dear Sweet Baby Jesus of Nazareth. That meal far surpassed the glory of a Roman triumph. Julius Caesar could have defeated the entirety of the barbarians of northern Europe, traveled forward in time and defeated the Golden Horde of the Mongolian Empire, and then killed baby Hitler, and his entrance through the gates of Rome on a chariot made of bones of his enemies’ mothers and pulled by a wild rhinoceros could not have been more glorious.
The crisp that crackled through the air when I bit down into that first drumstick rivaled the Big Bang, when an infinitely small ball of nothingness imploded into somethingness. The tender juiciness of the meat left the lush gardens of Babylon in jealousy. The vegetables, pregnant with the essence of the chicken, the tart of the lime, the wealth of the butter, and the playfulness of the thyme, complemented the protein only as Eleanor Roosevelt could have complemented her husband. Without one, the other rings hollow.
Once I came to my senses, I of course got seconds. Fortunately for posterity, I recalled a bit from the recipe about making gravy. It seemed deceptively simple — just whisk in some flour. After moving the chicken and vegetables to another container, I threw in a few tablespoons of red whole wheat flour and whisked until the consistency resembled gravy. Pouring this concoction over another plateful of chicken and vegetables, I giggled with a rising tide of anticipation. Attempting to corral it paralleled the futility of explaining to a four-year-old that the sky looks blue because of its high nitrogen content. But why daddy, why?!?!?!??!
If you had pointed a gun to my head while I ate the first plateful and asked whether I believed this could get any better, I would have honestly answered no. Then I would have gotten shot.
Thank you, chicken. I did not know you when you walked this earth. I only knew you in death. The label said you lived a good life — the farm you called home received the “Certified Humane” stamp. You ate grass the way you evolved to do, and roamed the pastures under the sun. I hope you were killed in a dignified way. You served a purpose, partook in the circle of life. I ate you, but I also partake in this circle. When I die, I want to be cremated. Knowing that my organic material will return to the earth and may one day become part of a living organism fills my heart with much more relief than the thought of my body slowly decomposing while nourishing maggots. While the latter presents an equally viable way to re-enter the cycle of life, it also presents an entirely avoidable repugnancy.
Thank you, chicken.