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May 20, 2009

The Ritz Cracker Coating: Defending Meat Against Dry Heat


There is a scourge that stalks your kitchen. You will find it most often lurking about in your oven, and its favorite prey is that which you probably most crave juicy meat. That devilish scoundrel, that dark horror from the shadows is dry heat.


In days of old, you could find the men-folk huddled around the stove, armed with clubs and guns. They were not there to hold off wolves or hippies or other wandering scavengers, but in vain attempts to stop dry heat from robbing meat of the very juices that make it so pleasurable to eat.


This dry heat most often manifests itself when meat must be cooked for a long period of time, because it is that point where someone may become preoccupied with other things and forget that meat is in the oven until too late . . . the fiend of dry heat has stolen into the kitchen and sucked the meat entirely dry.


What you are left with is something so tough that to swing it at another person is to risk being charged with use of a deadly weapon.


There is a way, a simple way, to seal in juices and protect meat from dry heat. That is to coat it with something beforehand.


Coatings come in different forms and varieties and each serves its own purpose. For each coating, there is an appropriate meat. For beef, you may use a coating of herbed flour. For fish, there is corn meal. And then there is chicken.


One of the most popular coatings for chicken is the use of corn flakes. Originally, this was done to confuse children into believing that they were receiving that greatest of feasts breakfast for dinner.


But we need not confine ourselves to mere treachery against our children to protect the juicy nature of our meat. Today, we are blessed with an entire line of snack crackers. Among these, the most notable is the Ritz.


The Ritz cracker, by mere right of its name, is a king among crackers, imbued with a rich, buttery taste. Fortunately for us, it also crumbles easily and smashes down into a fine, fine powder.


For reasons that have much to do with physics and the subatomic properties of each kind of chicken, the thigh is especially adaptable to a coating of crushed Ritz crackers. This is good news, because dark meat tends to take longer to bake, thus increasing your chances of letting your dinner fall prey to mean old nasty dry heat.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. As the oven heats, dredge your chicken thighs through a mixture of melted butter, powdered garlic and onion salt. Roll this through the Ritz powder, making sure that it is well coated.


Place the thighs in a baking dish and slide into the oven for 35-45 minutes. When the juices run clear, they are done. Clear juices, by the way, are a sign of something else the crackers did their job. Where once armed men failed, crumbled crackers succeeded.


2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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