I Don’t Know How to Make Chicken

CJ and I had been dating for a couple of months. He was at my apartment in San Francisco and I had asked him what he might like to have for dinner. Chicken. I hesitated, cringed and meekishly responded, I don’t know how to make chicken.

Now mind you, at that point I was 45 years old. But I had yet to prepare chicken on the stove. Yes, there had been the occasional BBQ outdoors and the oven version smothered in liquids and vegetable – thanks in large part to the 1980s preppy staple The Silver Palate Cookbook. But stovetop chicken had not yet been part of my repertoire.

Incredulity! If there is a facial expression for incredulity, that is what flashed across CJ’s face. And then with a combination of empathy and authority, he offered two words – a remedy, a formula, a path forward. Apply heat. It changed my world.

Was it really that simple? Was he telling me that there was no special talent or alchemy required to prepare a piece of poultry?

Flash forward 13 years.

I’ve come a long way since that watershed moment.

It started several years ago with trout in parchment paper – a recipe with step-by-step photo illustrations from The Italian Cooking Encyclopedia.

And then there was the summer of tarts and torts drawn from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I had seen the movie Julie and Julia a short time before. If Julie could do it, I could do it. So I pulled down my mother’s 1977 edition of Julia Child’s tome, opened to tarte aux pommes, got out the flour and butter, plucked some apples from the tree in the garden, and I was off. In the months that followed: pâte brisé, pâte sucré, tarte aux framboises, tarte aux fraises. Could it really be this simple? Just follow the recipe et voilà, crème patissière.

And then there was the coq au vin. Oh wow! And then there was the osso buco in a newly purchased Le Creuset Dutch oven, bought just for the occasion. I was getting serious. Sure, I had upgraded from Revere Ware to All-clad 15 years earlier, but that was only because other gay men I knew had All- Clad pots and pans. It seemed like the thing to have in a San Francisco kitchen. But to shell out $275 expressly to make a singular dish, that was quite the statement – to myself – about applying heat seriously.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day. CJ prepared and baked a turkey with chestnut current stuffing, orange sweet potatoes and hazelnut dusted brussels sprouts. Dinner is his thing on Thanksgiving. And it was all absolutely delicious

I made the pie — a coconut and graham cracker crusted lemon meringue pie. Step by step, I followed a recipe that our friend Jane gave us last year. First the crust, then apply heat, set aside.  Then the lemon custard filling, heat, set aside. Then the meringue stabilizer, heat, set aside. Then the meringue – thick, airy, ethereal meringue. (I’ve gotten really good at making it just right in the past year.) Then combine all of the ingredients, mounding the meringue higher and higher with peaks galore. And finally, apply heat.

The pie came out of the oven at just about noon, beautifully browned, the peaks ever so slightly singed. Exquisite. CJ had plenty of time remaining to bake the turkey and cook the fixings for our 6 o’clock dinnertime.

Who were we kidding? We had our first few slices of pie at 2 in the afternoon.