The scene opens onto a park with two men picking over the carcass of a small fowl. The oils stay slippery on their hands. The spices stick in between facial hairs. Plastic forks sit unused and to the side. The other men in the park play mahjong, speak Russian and smoke tobacco.
Oh my God why is this chicken so good! It’s way better than my chicken.
It is. It is.
I have to admit it. I love roasted chicken. It is one of my favorite dishes to make, but it just tastes better at the Cumin food truck (formerly, Grill Masters) posted at the West Hollywood farmers market every Monday at lunchtime. In between incredible enjoyment I analyze the chicken. It’s a really great and fortunate thing to encounter people doing something you do with more mastery. It means there are tangible ways to be even better. From what I could tell the gentleman at Cumin is using a blend of cumin, thyme, rosemary, turmeric, garlic and I’m sure a few other things as well. He has a much heavier hand in his seasoning than I do and I think this has to be the main difference. He is selling a whole chicken for 14 dollars and if we are being real, you know the quality of the meat is not what you would buy at a local and responsible butcher. But hey it’s street meat. Don’t think too hard about it.
One night my uncle drops off my young cousin with me while he attends a meeting. She is 15 and always in trouble and if you were to take all of that as a sign of her future potential you would be ignoring what is a very inquisitive, intelligent and comedic mind. I roast a chicken while she visits.
My mom would be shocked to see me eating healthy. Do you have any ranch?
No, I absolutely do not have ranch.
Wait is ranch not healthy either?
She asks questions about the fact that my husband is white. I’m lighter skinned than most of my cousins on the black side of my family. She says she wants to marry a white guy, and move to Long Beach. It makes me crack up. The plans of fifteen year old girls have a special way directly through to my heart. I get it. I see what Long Beach means; I see what a white husband represents. We have a long talk about racial expectations. We talk about the various ways out of life in San Bernardino. I stress college and art like I have my shit totally in order, which I don’t. But education is a way out still, I suppose. I give her the book Beloved and tell her to be patient through any things she doesn’t understand. She is excited by it. She wants the book and the Long Beach it represents. I tell her to eat more of the chicken, I know she couldn’t possibly be full yet and she laughs.
I have always loved eating food off of bones especially in the presence of others. I mean my column is called Eat With Your Hands! I’m a messy eater. I not militantly carnivorous, but I really do love the natural feeling of eating food directly from an animal. That basic drive of fire, meat, family. It’s a real thing.
The scene closes with two men casually inspecting the carcass of the fowl. The meat is gone. The mess is wiped up with napkins. The conversation is lazy and about weather and respective spouses. She would really like this. He hates it when it gets this messy… laughing and so on.
Have fun with your blend. Here are the spices and herbs I use:
Cumin, Cayenne, Salt, black pepper, thyme and garlic. I am not exacting. I change things here and there depending on the bird, the season and my mood.
Melt a few tablespoons of butter with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add your chicken and cover with your spice blend.
I roast my chickens at 300 degrees for two hours and 45 minutes. Slow and low. Rotating it twice to make sure the skin crisps as even as it is able to. The best advice I can give anyone in the kitchen is to slow it down. Next time you make scrambled eggs cook them over low heat and see the difference. Patience makes food better. It makes it so that when you find somebody making what you do taste so much better you can go back and simply tweak your style a bit to make everything more delicious. When the bird is done I cut it in half long ways and pour the juices directly over it to serve. I think it looks and tastes best like this.
I don’t put a lemon or anything in the center of the chicken while roasting because I can never really tell the difference. What I do instead is squeeze a little lemon juice over it right before serving.
Here is a list of various drinks I will pair with my roasted chicken:
Basque Cider (Thank you Bar Sajor)
San Pellegrino Pompelmo (Grapefruit soda)