31 October 2013

October 28th

October 28th: the scene on my balcony begs a description. Two wooden chairs and a table lie overturned, a plate with a bottle oil lamp on it are smashed into smithereens, an unused metal ashtray with LAS VEGAS and the four kings molded around the rim is thrown on the floor, face down among the glass shards. It's easy to think it's been a scene of a seething brawl, this. Perhaps, even, a fight of a kind where deadly threats eschew, and veins in the throat get swollen with anguish and anger and look like electric cords.

A single pigeon is trying its hardest to cross the gusts of wind, his wings flapping faster than a heart on speed. A determined bird, gone now. One minute tree leaves, frail dots of rust and amber, are kicked skywards, the other they are slapped against the rattling windows, a sudden place of rest. The trees below, many are still fully clad in leaf, shake and kneel in trance, an act of exorcism. The bathroom door, left ajar, sways back and forth; the window curtains are apprehensive of the draft. A storm has come, its force is non-negotiable. The wind regurgitates and an occasional wall of rain suddenly looks like a screen of smoke.

Coffee has grown cold in my mug, a thin layer of silt formed on the bottom. A few hours before, rather naively I got on my bike to get groceries, but I could't keep the wheel. Dislodged branches crackled under my feet like aging vertebra and knuckles as I walked to the store. Ambulance screamed past, and after it a police car.

The sun comes out on and off, but amidst the roars of the wind there is no comfort in its glow. In fact, it looks rather menacing, like that waiter whose white-teethed smile makes one of his eyebrows arch and his washed-blue eyes harden somehow.

Dusk. Lights come on. Trapped in the sky for hours, one plane after another bores its way forth out of the heavy clouds and down for landing. The smell of heated metal fills up the kitchen -- the oven is ready. I'm roasting chicken with two lemons for dinner.

Roast Chicken with Two Lemons
Adapted from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan, via The New York Times
Yield: 4 servings

Storm or no storm, this one is the easiest and certainly one of the tastiest ways to roasted chicken.There is nothing more to it than a chicken that gets seasoned with salt and pepper inside and out, fortified with two lemons, and then sent into the oven for an hour and a half. The way different cooking times for dark and white meat are reconciled here is so simple it's genius: lemons. It's all good that they subtly perfume the chicken breast, but the best is their moisture that wafts from them and into the meat keeping the breast from drying out while the legs are roasted through and through. And then there is the skin; at the end it browns and crisps up like a layer of goldel, lacquered filo pastry. A genius recipe.

1 * 1.2 to 1.5 kg (3 to 4 pounds) free-range chicken
Freshly ground black pepper
2 small lemons

Warm the oven to 180 C (350 F).

Rinse the chicken well inside and out. Remove any bits of fat hanging loose. Pat the bird thoroughly dry all over with paper towels.

Rub a generous amount of salt and black pepper over the chicken's body and into its cavity.
Wash the lemons and pat them dry. Puncture the lemons in at least twenty places each, using a toothpick, a trussing needle, a sharp-pointed fork, or similar tool.

Put both lemons into the bird's cavity and close up the opening loosely with a few toothpicks or a trussing needle and string. Don't make it airtight, otherwise the chicken may burst.

Place the chicken into a roasting pan, breast side down. Do not add fat of any kind. This is a self-basting bird, it won't stick to the pan. Put it on the upper third of the prepared oven. After the first 30 minutes, turn the chicken breast side up. Doing so, try not to puncture the skin. Cook for another 30 minutes. Then scale the heat up to 200 C (400 F) and cook for 20 minutes more. Allow for 20-25 minutes of cooking time for each 500 g (1 pound). There is no need to turn the chicken again. 

Bring the chicken to the table whole -- if desired, garnish it with a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley -- and leave the lemons inside until it's carved and opened. Don't tiptoe around the juices that run out; they are delicious and ought to be spooned over the chicken slices or mopped with a chunk of good bread. The lemons may have shrunk, but they still contain juices. Don't squeeze them; they may squirt.