Where do you draw the line?


04 Feb Where do you draw the line?

I don’t care what studies you cite, culinary authorities you quote or Michelin-starred chefs you hold up as iridescent examples. In my kitchen, roast chicken is a simple stuff-and-shove-in-the-oven affair. String is reserved for recycling newspapers, not trussing poultry. And I am not about to expend the time or mental energy to brine a bird for what should be a casual, no-fuss Sunday supper. Heck, you’re lucky if I remember to remove the giblets and that little metal “approved” tag.

Okay, I admit I do soak my dried beans — usually. But let’s be honest. There are some truly compelling reasons for this added step.

But no matter how you plead, admonish or cajole, you simply cannot convince me that a properly raised bird needs to be soaked in salt water for hours to be succulent or should have its ankles bound for the sake of propriety. Let’s face it, seeing poultry arrive at the table with legs splayed like it’s about to undergo a pre-natal exam ain’t pretty, but it can’t be any more damaging to diners’ sensibilities than certain hip hop moves broadcast on wide screen TVs from every wall at Applebee’s.

So, if you accept an invitation to chicken dinner at my place, know now that you will be presented with an unbrined exhibitionist of a bird. I will, however, make sure the beans are perfectly prepared.

Where do you draw the culinary line? What cooking advice to you know intellectually but steadfastly ignore? When you buck the system, is there fall out, or is this act of gastronomic rebellion more liberating than lamentable? Fess up. I’m always looking for ways to keep it real.

Photo © SpecialKRB. Published under a Creative Commons License.

No Comments
  • Dan @ Casual Kitchen
    Posted at 09:17h, 04 February Reply

    Totally reasonable. I draw the line at complex, multi-course meals. The dinners I serve in my home are almost always simple and not that time-consuming.

    And honestly, I “draw lines” in every area of my life, not just in cooking. Better to consciously make decisions on where I choose to invest my time, rather than have those decisions imposed on me by others, by my own guilt, or by social conditioning. Choose what you want to do actively, make it your choice and your choice alone, and it will be a lot easier to invest your time, care and mental focus into doing those things well. It think it’s an important step towards living a fulfilled life. Thought-provoking post Charmian!

    Dan @ Casual Kitchen

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 15:50h, 05 February Reply

      Good point about conscious choices in every walk of life. Our competitive culture of perfectionism can really cloud our judgement. I’m working hard on making satisfying choices — which isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

      Great answer, as always, Dan. Thanks for weighing in.

  • Babette
    Posted at 09:58h, 04 February Reply

    Now that I buy chickens from local farmers, I don’t wash the chicken either (that sound you heard was my mother first fainting, then waking up and vowing never to eat chicken in my home again).

    Like you, there will be no trussing or brining of chickens in my kitchen.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 15:52h, 05 February Reply

      You are a kindred spirit. I don’t wash chicken either — but your mother shouldn’t faint. The newest research says DON’T wash chicken since it will splash and leave your kitchen covered in salmonella germs. They had me at “don’t wash” but tell your mom on me.

  • Suzy
    Posted at 10:05h, 04 February Reply

    I purposely open my chicken’s legs in an ungainly fashion as I think she cooks more evenly that way and also we get much more lovely crispy skin.

    Nice blog!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 15:53h, 05 February Reply

      I like your style, Suzy. Cooking evenly is a bigger issue to me than looks. And I had no idea it contributed to crispy skin. I’m going to “spread eagle” my next whole poultry purchase and see how it works.

  • Connie
    Posted at 11:01h, 04 February Reply

    I definitely like the idea of cooking from scratch…but I probably won’t make chicken stock or churn my own butter. I have roasted chickens without having brined them, I think they are delicious enough without the extra work. I have seen people tie up the chicken before roasting, but I have yet to do that and my chicken seems perfectly fine. And if your guests just cannot eat that chicken, perhaps they can invite you to their home or make it a potluck. Of course, the best bet would be to just carve it before bringing it to the table and don’t tell them it’s not brined or washed lol.

    Thank you for your thought-provoking blog.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 15:58h, 05 February Reply

      I don’t churn my own butter (at least not intentionally) but I do make chicken stock since it’s easy and so much tastier than the commercial kind. Good to know where you draw the line in cooking.

      And I like your ideas for dealing with fussy diners.

  • Amui
    Posted at 12:31h, 04 February Reply

    Like Dan, I draw many lines in my life, ’cause I’m convinced I own it, and do it with care and respect for others, but I’m always making my own lines, after careful consideration though.
    I skip many steps when cooking, but probably the act that horrifies my husband most is when I’m browsing for a recipe and after reading several versions and learning the “basic” procedure, I produce my own version. It’s just terribly fun, even when sometimes (not always though) the result is also terribly wrong.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:01h, 05 February Reply

      Kudos for creating your own version of recipes. Your technique isn’t that far from what most recipe developers do. And cooking should be fun — I’ve made my share of bad meals. But every now and again one experiment is stellar and that makes all the experimentation worth while.

      Keep cooking on your own terms, Amui!

  • Janet Foster
    Posted at 12:56h, 04 February Reply

    I draw the line at recipes that have multiple time consuming stages. I also draw the line at recipes that call for 9 or 10 different spices. I don’t truss my chickens but I usually brine them because I think they taste better brined.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:06h, 05 February Reply

      Now that I cook Asian food on a regular basis and my pantry is well stocked with Indian / Thai spices, I’m okay with (most) recipes that call for half the spice rack. But if they call for a spice I’ll never use again, I’m not likely to make the recipe either.

      Interesting that you find brining worthwhile. You’re not alone in this. I know people who swear by it. Thanks for weighing in.

  • Jill Silverman Hough
    Posted at 14:59h, 04 February Reply

    I always get asked about this sort of thing in cooking classes – do I peel carrots? do I wash lettuce? do I use different salt for cooking and for finishing? And I tell them that, as much as they’d like answers, for many things in the kitchen, there’s just no “right” thing to do so you have to decide for yourself. Me? No, no, and no.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:08h, 05 February Reply

      Nice to hear it from a pro, Jill.

      I now have finishing salts on the table — mainly because I find them less salty than standard table salt. But I’ve had people get very upset with me for using finishing salt while cooking. Hey, it was handy. No one died.

      And you don’t wash lettuce? I’ll tell Barb’s mom on you. :=)

      • Jill Silverman Hough
        Posted at 12:56h, 07 February Reply

        LOVE the idea of finishing salts on the table. I have a bunch of it around, but don’t want another salt on the kitchen counter and forget to use it if it’s in the cupboard. Putting some on the table today!

  • jodi (bloomingwriter)
    Posted at 16:40h, 04 February Reply

    You’re such a sensible person–my kind of cook. I have never brined a bird nor tied its legs with string; I throw some apples and pears into its body cavity, sprinkle it with herbs and spices, and fire it in yon oven. Done deal. (stuffing is done separately, with vegetables). Easy peasy. And tasty. And almost a once-a-week meal in the winter.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:10h, 05 February Reply

      Oh. Jodi. I love chicken cooked with apples and herbs. If you lived closer we’d be eating together a lot!

      Like the idea of doing the stuffing separately with veggies. I have not perfected the stuffed roast chicken. The stuffing is either too dry or too soggy. Your idea is so sensible. But what else would I expect from you?

  • Robin Smart
    Posted at 21:11h, 04 February Reply

    The above people are “my kind of people”. They all have lives, and priorities and seem to look for reasonable middle ground. They get food on the table without torturing themselves. There is time left to enjoy said food.
    I’ve lived happily for 52 years without brinning a chicken. Folks still eat at my table and the sun still shines.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:15h, 05 February Reply

      Well said. And you’re right. I saw the sun this morning.

      Many people have mentioned the concept of balance and priorities. One of the dangers about writing for a living (on any topic, but food especially) is you can easily get caught up in the “best” ways. But best in a test kitchen and best in the average domestic kitchen can be quite different. There. I said it.

      Sun? Beginning to set. Bet it rises again tomorrow. If not. Blame me.

  • Donna from Yumma Yumma
    Posted at 22:41h, 04 February Reply

    I’ve never made a whole chicken but I have made whole organic turkeys. I’m not sure but I can’t imagine theres much of a difference. No brining and no tying up the legs. Who cares what position the legs are in as long as the meat is cooked well?? And whats the big deal about brining? I use olive oil to baste my turkey and it comes out perfectly juicy and moist and flavorful every time.

    Simple is always best. Whenever I’m looking for a recipe, if it has too many ingredients or too many steps, I either skip it or combine it with another recipe (or 2) to create my own easier version. It almost always turns out great, sometimes even better than the original and I have more time with my family that way too.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:22h, 05 February Reply

      Love that you create your own version of recipes. Often the tweaked / improvised dish is the best. After all, who knows your family and your kitchen better than you?

      Too many steps is a big turn off for me, too (except with it comes to desserts, in which case I will go to great and unreasonable lengths for a special occasion. I can be like that.)

  • Tina
    Posted at 00:33h, 05 February Reply

    I “butterfly” my birds, which is the simple step of cutting up the back on both sides of the spine and removing it, then turning it breast side up and flattening it out. It takes only a minute, and when baked, the entire skin is crisp because it is all facing up. It bakes quicker, and I think it is easier to carve this way. I like simple, but am not against an extra step or two if there is a good reason. As for whether to brine or not, I find if you buy a quality bird there is no need to brine.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:29h, 05 February Reply

      You hit the heart of the matter when you say you’re willing to do an extra step if there’s a reason. And your argument for butterflying a chicken is a convincing one. Like you, I’m mot convinced brining is worth the time. Plus I admit I’m not a big salt fan, so that might be a bias on my end.

      I’ve never butterflied a bird, but will give it a try sometime soon. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Lisa MacColl
    Posted at 10:27h, 05 February Reply

    Brine a chicken? bah. I’m usually frantically cleaning the house so that people won’t know how we really live. I don’t have time for giving the chicken or turkey a spa treatment. For Christmas, we cook our turkey overnight from Christmas Eve to Christmas morning. Drench it in butter. Low and slow heat, and ignore it. If it’s a bit dry (and it rarely is) add gravy. Done.

    My first cookbooks were Edna Staebler’s and the Five Roses cookbook. I’m not a fancy cook. My mother grew up on a farm, and I learned from her and her sisters to cook good tasting, if not pretty food. I regularly cook the noodles in the meat sauce-(I call it sludge). 1 pot, less clean up. My husband tried to make it for my daughter when I was away at a conference. He called to ask where the recipe was. I don’t have one. Cheese sauce was learned at my aunt’s elbow. “Butter the size of an egg, a few shakes of flour, enough milk to get it to the consistency you like. Grate the cheese, add a shake of mustard powder…”
    So I’ll never be on dinner party wars, and my lasagna might not be pretty, but it will taste good. I’d rather visit with my friends and family.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:33h, 05 February Reply

      Love the concept of giving the poultry a “spa treatment”. That made me laugh.

      I specialize in ugly food that tastes good and have more than once threatened to serve a meal with a blind fold instead of napkins. Taste is first and foremost my priority. And I bet your lasagna tastes amazing! Turn down the lights and uncork the wine. No one will care…

  • TS of eatingclub vancouver
    Posted at 03:53h, 06 February Reply

    Teehee, LOVE this post!

    I agree: why make roasting chicken so complicated?! And yeah, we quite specialize in “ugly food”. ;D

  • Sally
    Posted at 04:43h, 06 February Reply

    I’ve never ever seen the point of peeling cultivated mushrooms. Why would you? A quick dab with some kitchen paper for any specs of dirt is all I do.
    Love the very graphic descriptions throughout this post and comments of chickens with their legs akimbo!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 21:48h, 08 February Reply

      Really?! People actually peel mushrooms? I thought that was just an urban legend told by OCD cooks to make their own habits seem normal.

      If I had a prize for drawing the line, I’d award it to you.

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