Before I go, I have something to say

Strategic Cooking

I may be late to the table, but I just heard about something astounding:  Engagement Chicken, a supposedly sure-fire dish to serve to a man that guarantees he will propose. I recognized it immediately. It was MY chicken, with no secret messages attached.

This is the way I’ve been roasting chicken forever. I found the recipe when I was playing Suzy Homemaker in my first marriage. I had no idea, until my daughter saw a post on Jezebel, that all those chickens I’d roasted in my ovens, down through the years, had a not-so-subtle message: “Marry Me.”

The method is simple. That, along with the fact that it tastes really good, accounts for the rut it threw me into when it comes to major holidays, not to mention birthdays and even just Sunday dinner with the nuclear family. Sure, I’ve seen recipes for chickens and turkeys stuffed with bread cubes, apples, and sage, but why mess with perfection?

Unlike most chicken recipes, it requires NO BASTING. No kidding! I own a baster, but it sits in the bottom drawer, under the cheese cloth, the plastic recipe card holder, the Cuisinart stick blender, the lunch bags, the four thousand extra dish rags, and the roll of shelf liner. I’ll admit to having a poultry recipe that calls for all kinds of attention, not only basting but also turning every ten minutes or so. That recipe is for Cornish game hens, and while they are sublime, I’m not sure if such a tiny creature deserves so much tending. I prefer cuisine that cooks while I read.

My chicken recipe calls for only a few things, aside from a three-pound chicken – lemon juice, garlic, kosher salt. In one hour, it emerges from the oven with a crispy, crackly, garlicky, salty skin, and when it’s tipped upright, a lovely lemony sauce runs out, ideal for pouring over rice. While the bird is cooking, the juice keeps the chicken succulent. And really, anyone can do it.

How did this chicken come to be named “Engagement Chicken”? According to Jezebel, someone at Glamour magazine made it once, back in the eighties, and darned if her boyfriend didn’t propose. The story is about as sexist as you can get, but this was a very long time ago, when songs like “Charming Billy” could ask, “Can she bake a cherry pie?” as a legitimate question on the list of traits to look for in a wife. Were there separate-but-equal songs asking, “Can he change a flattened tire?” I don’t think so. Women were supposed to be the gender desperate for a legally-united mate.

It brings to mind a recipe for a dessert with an even more pathetic name: “Hoping For a Husband Cake.” I am certain I clipped that recipe too, but a search of my files (Dessert – Cakes) yields nothing. A quick Google search found it on my first try. Described as a coconut torte, it looks lovely, with apricot jam puddled on top and frosting-spackled sides heavily carpeted with sliced almonds.

Of course, a chicken does not a square meal make. We might want to serve a side dish of “Wedding Mashed Potatoes,” since, after all, being engaged does not necessarily lead to the all-important ceremony. And how about some “Perfect-Honeymoon Ambrosia,” to guard against buyers’ remorse once the couple boards the plane to Oahu? Some might even suggest “No Returns Green Beans” to ensure your shower guests stick to the wish list at Bed, Bath, and Infinity, thus saving the engaged couple the chore of returning unwanted, unneeded, or duplicate gifts. Getting married is exhausting enough.

Take it from me. My son got married last June, and they pulled out all the stops. The guest list, the color choices, the bridesmaids’ hairstyles, the gorgeously decorated reception hall, the eight-hundred photos, the rehearsal dinner menu, the song selections, the unity ceremony, and, oh yeah, the actual getting-married part. I’m not complaining; it was beyond wonderful, and my darling boy and his equally darling fiancée deserved every bit of it.

Did she have to cook for him first? I don’t think so. Besides, he’s no stranger to the kitchen. As soon as he was old enough to turn on the stove without burning the house down, he took great delight in experiments involving mainly ground beef and all of the condiments in the fridge. He ate what he cooked, too. Simple. Easy. No fuss.

So I can see one reason for dubbing this roast chicken the best choice for prompting an engagement – its simplicity. It says, if the guy is really paying attention to the food placed before him, “Let’s keep things simple. Let’s have a down-to-earth relationship. Let’s keep it real. Let’s make our life together as uncomplicated, delicious, and juicy as this chicken.”

For several years, my husband has been teaching a course over J-Term called The Psychology of Stress. Along with serious study, they do stuff to unwind like yoga, staying overnight at Sinsinawa Mound, and cooking. The cooking lesson, by a Hy-Vee dietitian, is meant to promote healthy eating and a bit of independence in the kitchen. Every year, Bob is amazed at how little most college-age students, no matter their gender, know about cooking. It’s sad.

So ask yourself, do you want a relationship based on ramen soup? Or something more tasty? Even if you’re in no hurry for a spouse, you can master this dish. Make that chicken for yourself and a friend or two, with no hidden agenda. Call it “BFF Chicken,” followed by some “I Bought This at Village Inn Because it’s Okay if Women Don’t Cook Everything” pie. Bon appetit!


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