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February 5, 2007

The Persuasion of Dark Chicken Meat

There are few endeavors in life for which success is not the fruit of keen teamwork. This is just as true when applied to the kitchen as it is in making a hit television series.

It is easy to lump the credit to the chef, because the great ones stand athwart their kitchen, utensils at the ready and hat cocked ever so gallantly to one side. They are larger-than-life, heroes of their own particular epic poems.

Yet, they cannot achieve even modestly if not for their supporting cast of ingredients. The cook’s chief labor is to understand how they work, and to coax his ingredients to greatness. Thus, the most important skill to have in the kitchen is the ability to persuade food.

For some foods, this is a simple process. You merely spread, say, peanut butter over one slice of bread, jellied fruit over another and combine the two. For others, you must either build experience, or at least read what others have done.

Such is the case with dark chicken meat.

The natural tendency here is to submit to the societal prejudice against the dark meat in favor of the breast. Where from this comes, it is not known. Compared to the dark meat, however, the white is docile and bereft of spirit. Dark meat is rich and full of flavor, a wild horse that must be tamed. You may do what you will to a chicken breast, but dark meat will turn on you in a second. It puts to test your skills of food persuasion.

Salt and pepper the skin of a leg joint then put it into a preheated skillet. Brown it on all sides. Then, turn down the heat and cover. Allow to cook gently for about 25 minutes, turning only occasionally.

You are perhaps wondering how to spend these 25 minutes. The chicken will do well without you, and will appreciate a little privacy, allowing you to contemplate how it is that situational comedy characters always seem to wrap up their own affairs in as much time.

Here, you can occupy yourself for about five minutes in preparing the next step, the chopping of a red onion, the slicing of a few mushrooms and the pouring of a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar. These are the ingredients for your sauce.

Once 25 minutes have passed (you may push it to half an hour if you are feeling appropriately froggy), lift the lid from your skillet. There is juice in the bottom of the pan, a gift from the chicken for leaving it in peace for half an hour.

Make use of it by adding the vinegar, onion and mushrooms. Stir them together, and allow the mushrooms and onion to soften. Here, a strange symmetry emerges. The onions release, the mushrooms absorb. Allow this to sink in, and blow your mind ever so slightly. You are observing one of Nature’s miracles showing itself to you. Take stock in this, for it just might be the most significant event of your life.

You are brewing a sauce here worthy of the richness of dark chicken meat. The chicken thigh might appear small and humble, but it feels nothing but white-hot contempt for weak, mild sauces. And, if you tried to adorn it with one, it would feel nothing but white-hot contempt for you. It would look up at you, as if to say, “Why did you even bother?”

Let your chicken know that you won’t let it down. Coat the chicken with your vinegar sauce as you turn it over. Feel the respect emanate from it as the sauce works its way into the meat and under the skin.

Cook down the sauce until it has the viscosity of motor oil, and the chicken meat is prepared to leave its home – the bone – with little tempting from your fork. You have worked hard to prepare this meal, and there is no need to turn consuming it into a chore. Spoon the sauce over the top and heap the onions and mushrooms next to the meat. Consider, perhaps, mixing them in with brown rice as a side dish.

Look at the chicken sitting on the plate. It appreciates not the work that you’ve done, but that you have taken the time to understand the way in which it works. You have done it a great favor, but more than that have proven to be highly persuasive.

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