I was delighted to speak with Charlotte McGuinn Freeman and Maryn McKenna of National Geographic column, The Plate.
Bring Back Home Economics: Three Food Writers on Teaching People to Cook – The Plate: Maryn McKenna.
The three of us were inspired by the success of Leanne Brown’s Good and Cheap, a cookbook designed to address the needs of people receiving public assistance, showing them how to cook on an extremely limited budget. See Could You Eat Well on $4 a Day?
Many of us manage to feed ourselves and our families well, while many more struggle with the basics. Some lacking money, some lacking skills, for others it’s both. Have you ever come home from grocery shopping and wondered what the heck to do with all the random stuff you bought? So often people have mentioned to me that they don’t know how to roast a chicken.
Cast Iron Cooking
The topic of how to use a CIS never gets old (see the Kitchn for this recent post and its long comment thread). I love my cast iron skillet and it’s the perfect vessel for people on a budget. They’re cheap They’re nearly indestructible. They are multi-purpose tools that can be used to fry, roast, and bake. In fact, the older they get, the better.
On Gastrodiplomacy and Teaching Cooking
One of the ideas I’ve had for “selling” the need to schools to reinstate home ec is to make it an interdisciplinary learning platform. It’s easy to use cooking as a way to teach simple things to youngsters (e.g. which is wet? which is dry? which bowl is the biggest? the smallest?) all the way up to university (culinary anthropology, history, politics of the plate and just this week the first PhD of Chocolate program was announced.)
As if by magic while I was photo editing, magically, this link appeared today in my Facebook stream. Gastrodiplomacy: Cooking up a Tasty Lesson on World Peace. At American University they’re doing just this sort of food-centric interdisplinary teaching, though there it seems to be centered around eating out, rather than cooking. No reason we couldn’t have both.
During our chat, we lamented the old days of the Food Network. When Molto Mario had the pull-down map and would cook while teaching history, geography. Alton Brown’s Good Eats that teaches very basics to fancy stuff in a straightforward and entertaining fashion.
While we think about food, cooking as a life skill and how to reinvent Home Economics, let’s first just roast a simple chicken.
Cast Iron Skillet Chix
I realized I keep thinking of this as “CIS Chix” Cast iron skillet chicken. “CIS” is a new term used in the field of gender identity studies and advocacy. It’s a way to challenge the assumed majority behind the current thinking of gender. Rather than “transgender” as the “other” we can view sexuality on a continuum from CIS to Trans, CIS simply means someone who identifies with the gender that would be culturally assigned to the sex one has been assigned at birth. So I’m CIS female, identifying myself as female and having been born with those parts.
So dinner + an update from the gender identity front. Learning makes me hungry. Let’s go!
Step 1 – Get a CIS
They are so very useful and cheap. You will use it a lifetime and then hand it down to some fortunate friend, nephew or niece. In fact, a garage sale is an excellent place to scoop one up for cheap. They’re easy to recondition. They’re also cheap new. But any way, just get one already.
Step 2 - Get a chicken
Commercial chickens are fed such horrible diets and are raised in such awful ways, that we limit our intake to Lilac Hedge Farms or Bell & Evans from Whole Foods.
Step 3 – Optional step – air dry chicken
Letting chicken rest in fridge nekkid, will allow the skin to dry out. This is a good thing if you like crispy skin. Overnight is best but even 1-3 hours will help. This method of roasting makes it less necessary than regular lower heat roasting but I try to do this when I can because I adore crunchy, crispy things.
Step 4a – Optional – herb butter
Again, totally optional. If you’re at all new and feel overwhelmed. Skip it. You can simply rub a little oil or butter and sprinkle with S&P. Really. It’ll be fine.
If you are inclined, chop some herbs up, maybe mash some garlic with some salt and then mix with softened butter. Or maybe you have a dried herb blend you could add to butter or oil. You can slide some between the breast meat and skin. And/or simply massage your bird with the seasoned oil or butter.
Step 4 – Pop the thighs open
The chicken’s, not yours. That comes later if you like. Right now simply grasp the drumstick and thigh and bend down/outward from the body. You will feel a pop and see the tip of the thigh bone peek out. This is good. When your bird hits that preheated skillet, the dark meat will instantly begin to cook. This evens out the differential between the breast meat and thigh meat. A common challenge is cooking the thigh meat thoroughly enough without drying out the breast meat. This technique solves that issue.
Step 5 – Preheat oven to 500 degrees with the skillet
Place your empty skillet into your clean oven and preaheat to 500. That’s a very hot oven. (Most chickens roasted in conventional ways go into a 350 or so oven.) Once the oven and skillet are preheated, carefully slide that hot pan out and place your chicken right on that dry, screaming hot skillet.
Now, you will have 30-40 minutes to do with, what you like.
At 30 minutes, I usually add some greens to the pan. Carefully, with tongs. The greens will begin to wilt in the hot pan and rendered chicken fat (mmm chicken fat). This particular day I added chard (stems chopped, leaves cut into ribbons) and two cloves of garlic, sliced thin. I had these GIANT leaves of rainbow chard so I just used two leaves.
I also began my potatoes roasting. Back around step three, you can place potatoes in a pot of boiling water and par cook, till they’re tender but not fully done. Then in our final roasting step, you add a sheet pan to the oven with some schmaltz or duck fat or high heat oil (not olive oil, it will burn). Again, the hot pan starts the crisping of the potatoes.
When the potatoes are done, drain the water, toss some smoked paprika, salt and pepper with the potatoes you’ve lightly smashed in the hot pan. Put the lid back on and shake the bejezus out of it. This will coat all those potatoes with the seasoned flour. Scrape all that good stuff onto the pre-heated sheet pan, and back into the oven. Toss them around the pan to get some fat/oil on all the potatoes.
Your chicken will be done around the 40 minute mark. Carefully remove that hot iron pan and beautiful bird – placing on a trivet or the stovetop. (I like to leave a potholder on the handle of the pan to remind myself not to grab it. The CIS will retain heat for a long time.) Let the chicken rest. Resist picking at the crispy bits if you can.
If you’d like something fresh, you can toss chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, thinly sliced onion with some olive oil and a splash of vinegar. These are purple cherokees and green zebras.