One of my favorite child-hood memories is coming home from school on an especially cold fall day and walking into my house to the overwhelming smells wafting out of the kitchen from my mother’s stock pot, simmering with some recipe she usually just magically made up with what she could find in the refrigerator. So opening to the Food and Wine section of my Sunday Chronicle and reading Georgeanne Brennan’s article, so eloquently describing the French comfort foods she and friends prepared on dark chilled nights over conversation and bottles of wine in Provence, I was (jealous and) inspired.
With a chilly wind turning the world outside my window from comfortable to brisk and my forehead (I worried) from cool to feverish, I decide French comfort food (with extra cloves of garlic and my mom’s old recipe for homemade chicken broth) was just the thing my ailing body needed. So I carefully rip the accompanying recipe for the “Poute au Pot” (which let’s face it just sounds like fancy cooking and was the most “comfy” sounding of the recipes) and make a quick grocery list. The dish basically calls for a whole chicken stuffed with Pancetta and mild sausage, cooked in a stock pot mixed with broth, seasonal herbs and veggies.
On a tight budget I head to the nearby Grocery Outlet, where I purchase a whole chicken for a miraculous $ 5.10 ( I can’t tell if it’s three pounds like the recipe dictates, but it looks small enough to fit in the only semi-large pot I own). I race through grabbing a few more ingredients, replacing the bland carrots and celery in the recipe with radishes and potatoes and head home, proud of my thrift and I suspect great genetically pre-determined potential for culinary genius.
The first instruction in my Chronicle tells me to remove the giblets. I’m stumped. I look the word giblet up in the dictionary and discover that it is the liver, heart, neck and whatever — yuck. I can’t really tell, looking at the inside of the chicken, what is exactly what. So using a knife I sort of reach into the chicken pulling out whatever looks like it doesn’t belong. Honestly it is pretty gross and has me considering returning to veganism but I press on.
The broth in the recipe is relatively easy. I don’t really measure anything, just pinching and dashing cayenne and parsley, salt and black pepper till my gut says enough, chopping veggies ’til all the garlic and onion smells make my stomach growl and the colors of all the different ingredients look even.
Somehow in all my swift thrift shopping I forget to buy a day-old baguette (though I doubt stores openly advertise their baguettes as a day old anyway?) I open my refrigerator and discover that the only bread I have are four mini Sarah Lee blueberry bagels. I figure what the hell; blueberry will sweeten up the salt in the stuffing.
I mush all the ingredients together then stuff all the stuffing into the chicken. I instantly run into my next glitch. I don’t own a “threaded trussing needle” or “a trussing pin” (what is trussing you might ask? My dictionary says it is a framework of beams, so I have no idea how that exactly translates in chicken), but after searching through several junk drawers I realize I do have paper clips. So I straighten out the thin metal clip and loop it around the chicken legs crossing and tying them together so that the stuffing won’t fall out. Satisfied (and feeling a bit brilliant) I add the chicken to the broth and wait.
As I sit in the next room doing homework, the heavy aromas of mingling herbs and heat from my large gas oven fill my apartment, with night falling and the wind blowing the trees into fits outside. I feel 10 years old, coming home after school to the kitchen alive with dinner smells. After an especially rough round of teasing on the playground, my mom would let me be her tester and my job would be to stir the pot every half hour till she said it smelled done, which always happened to be about 20 minutes after my dad came home.
Once my chicken “smells done,” I take a mug full of broth and a fork full of moist chicken that falls right off the bone. I can taste a hint of every ingredient (except the blueberry bagels, they don’t really translate). The juicy, richly-flavored chicken and steaming cup of broth taste just like I remember, just like home. I immediately call my little sister and email her the recipe.