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Of bones and hearts and inward parts

October 04, 2004

In the spirit of my newfound cooking determination, I decide, this weekend, to cook a whole chicken. Being both ambitious and cautious, I decide to start out with the venerated Zuni Cafe roast chicken recipe.

So I buy a chicken, that staple of the kitchen the world over. And that is where the fun begins.

Chicken.jpg

First off, I am delighted at the price. A whole chicken, at four pounds, is less than three dollars. Three dollars! Do you know that two chicken breasts will run you five? Crazy Americans, I think. Won't cook things with bones in.

I bring the chicken home in its sleek plastic wrapping, bouncing juicy. I take it out Sunday, to salt well in advance as Judy Rodgers advocates so convincingly. I slit the plastic wrapping in the sink, and the yellow goosebumped bird slithers out. I eye it, evaluating. Loose, slippery skin. Pointy little wing tips. I must stick my hand inside this bony carcass, I think for the first time. I do so, squeamish, and draw out a handful of tiny organs, and a lump of fat. Disgusting, and oddly fascinating. I roll them around in my hand. I set them down on the countertop. And I study them. Carefully.

Then I wash my hands in very hot water (chicken germs - bird flu!) and reach for my phone.

I call my mother.

Mom - I say. I am looking at a chicken. A whole chicken. It's floppy and spiny and loose-wrinkly-skin-like. Now. What in the world do I do with the giblets? I have this vague idea, see, that you are supposed to Do Something with these lovely miniature organs. My mom snickers and tells me to make stock out of them. Right. I can do that. But, she says, don't put in the liver. It will make the broth taste bitter.

But! Which is the liver, I cry.

This is where my mother, Betty Crocker, Google, and the rest of the oh so superior cooking world fail me utterly. Nowhere, it seems, is there a chicken giblet diagram, detailing these mysteriously dangerous parts for those of us who did not grow up pre-1960 at our mother and grandmother's side, watching giblets and other arcane animal bits bathing in the stock pot. I discover that chicken livers are good to eat on toast. I learn that they are bad for cholesterol, yet delicious. I learn that you can put them in stock, but later in the boiling process. I find kitty chow recipes involving liver. But no one tells me - not one! - what they look like.

Don't you know what a liver looks like? asks my mother. No mother, I was an English major. I wouldn't recognize a liver if it met me on the street.

My mom makes a few helplessly vague references to pinkish color. I hang up and look again at the fleshy jewels on the countertop. They are all pink.

So I take a wild guess and pitch something, and sweep the rest in with the carrots and garlic. The stock turns out OK. I do discover a little chicken heart, which becomes much firmer as it boils in the stock; I can see the artery poking out like a white tube. I take it out and play with it. The chicken cockaigne I make later for my friend (the roast bird is for later) turns out great, the stock in a sauce on top. A little too much salt, but good old Joy of Cooking proves again its classic status.

I'll let you know how the whole roast chicken turns out. Meanwhile, I still want my giblet diagram.

Posted by Faith at 4 October 2004

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