24. Heat-Adjacent Cooking
How not to cook a chicken
I recently went to Toronto’s Grape Witches for a meet-and-greet event with Colu Henry, who was in town to launch her new book, Colu Cooks: Easy Fancy Food. A week before the event, I was on the fence about attending. (Was it going to be indoors? Was it going to be too crowded?1) But when Colu shared a photo I took of cod and baby bok choy poached in coconut milk made using her recipe, I took it as a sign.
It was a fun event. As I waited for a moment to say hello to Colu and get my book signed, I leafed through it and checked out the recipes. One stood out immediately: A Dirty Bird (aka Potato Chip Chicken). A spiritual heir to Shake ‘n Bake and Corn Flake Chicken, the recipe combines barbecue potato chips with a few seasonings and butter in a food processor to create a fine, tacky crumb that gets gently pressed onto a whole chicken before roasting.2 The result, the recipe says, is a crunchy, juicy, highly flavourful bird.
While I was getting my book signed, I mentioned that my plan was to make it on the Sunday of the upcoming weekend, but using all dressed chips3 instead because I’m not wild about barbecue chips. She assured me that the recipe was just a jumping-off point and that of course I should tailor it to suit my tastes. I promised I would post my results on Instagram4 and she said she would keep an eye out for my pics.
On Sunday, everything proceeded very smoothly. I posted a picture of the recipe page in Colu’s book and started in. Shortly after, Colu reposted my photo to her Instagram stories. Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of what you might call ‘cookalongs,’ step-by-step photo essays of the process of making a meal, posted in as real-time as possible. It adds a degree of difficulty to making a meal, particularly when I haven’t done it in a while, which was true in this case. It divides your attention just enough that it becomes easier to make a stupid error.5 But things seemed to be cruising along.
When I roast chickens, I usually do it at quite high heat, 425° or 450° for around 45 minutes. This recipe called for a longer roast of 90 minutes at 350°. Because we have a convection oven, I knocked off 25 degrees6 and preheated to 325°. When the oven chimed that it was ready, I slid the chicken in and waited.
In the meantime, I looked at the stats for the photos I’d posted to my stories. There were quite a few usernames I didn’t recognize as my usual followers. It seems they had found their way via Colu’s post. I had something of an audience of complete strangers and this would be their introduction to The Plate Cleaner!
After an hour, I wanted to see how the bird was doing. It was only 2/3 of the way through the cook time, so I wasn’t expecting it to be near ready, but I was surprised by how far from ready it was. I was barely halfway from its 165° target.7 Could lowering the oven by 25 degrees really make that much difference? Seeing as how I was in unfamiliar territory, I decided to trust the process and keep sticking to the recipe. I checked again 15 minutes later and decided that something just wasn’t right. The bird’s internal temperature had climbed a bit, but it was clear it wouldn’t reach 165° in the next 15 minutes. What’s more, I could touch the sheet pan it was sitting on with my bare hands and only feel a strong warmth, but nothing like it should have felt like after 75 minutes in a moderately hot oven.
Realizing your chicken has been sitting in a broken oven is not great. Documenting it on Instagram is also not great, especially when a bunch of strangers are watching, getting their introduction to your content.
Fortunately, the oven wasn’t broken. Unfortunately, my mind was.
We have a terrific Samsung range that has a double oven: a smaller one on top and a larger one below. Distracted by trying to cook and post at the same time, I had preheated the upper cavity but placed the chicken in the lower cavity, which heated up a bit, but was never going to get it to 165°. Realizing what I’d done, I moved the bird to the properly-heated upper cavity. Immediately I started smelling the aroma of roasting all dressed chips.
After letting the bird cook in the right heat for a while, I checked to see how it was doing. The internal temperature had started rising much more quickly, but dinner was going to be much later than I had planned.
Finally, two and a half hours after the chicken went into the wrong oven, it hit 165° and was ready. I can only imagine what Colu’s followers made of my colossal fuck-up.
Given the circumstances, it’s not fair to say what I think of the recipe. It was definitely juicy, but there’s just no basis to evaluate it beyond that. When I try it next time, I will probably use a less-sweet chip like sour cream and onion or dill pickle. Or maybe just plain with my own seasonings added, as suggested by a friend. There will definitely be a next time because I can’t have my good name remain sullied in this manner, even if it was my own doing.
If you’d like to see the actual cookalong, you can find it here.
What I’m Consuming…
Season 5 of Somebody Feed Phil, of course.
Phil Rosenthal’s mission to broaden people’s horizons by getting them to visit new places and try new foods continues in Oaxaca, Maine, Helsinki, Portland, and Madrid. With bad news seeming relentless these days, Phil’s unalloyed enthusiasm for almost everything is a very soothing and welcome break. It’s definitely not an Anthony Bourdain show, but it shares a production company with No Reservations and Parts Unknown, so you can expect the same great production values. If you haven’t watched it yet, I suggest starting at Season 1 so you can get to know and love Max and Helen, Phil’s parents who make an appearance in every episode. They have both passed away in the last few years and if you just started at season 5, you won’t get the sense of their absence.
Wine: A Tasting Course. I certainly enjoy wine, but I wouldn’t call my palate sophisticated or educated. I bought this book years ago to help with that. It’s set up with a chapter of information about topics like acid, sweetness, oak, and fruit, followed by a tasting to isolate the topic of the chapter. What kept me from working my way through the book was having to open four (or sometimes even more) bottles to taste. For I am but a single man and even though I have been known to enjoy a drink, the prospect of having to either consume four+ bottles of wine in a timely manner or throw them out8 was too daunting.
But I got my hands on a Coravin, a device with a long, hollow needle that pierces corks and specially made screw caps and extracts just the wine you need, filling the empty space with inert argon gas to prevent oxidation. The remaining wine stays good, Coravin claims, for up to two years and a cork can be pierced up to 50 times. Beth and I have now done a few Coravin-assisted lessons from the book and I have definitely noticed a change in how I approach my first taste of a wine.
What’s on the Menu…
Home Pizza. If you’ve been subscribed for a while, you know that I often like to make and eat (and write and post about) pizza. After I finish writing this, I am going to fire up the Ooni Koda 16 in the backyard and attempt to make my first large pie on my new 16” peel. It all feels very grown up!
But I’m mostly going to restrict my pizza intake to homemade pies because of one man: Dave Portnoy. He’s the president of Barstool Sports, a media company that has been called, “a cesspool of misogyny and bigotry.” He has been accused multiple times of sexual misconduct, which he denies. He also does what he calls “one-bite reviews” of pizzerias and has amassed a very large (and rabid, as we will see) following. When he announced in late April that he was coming to Toronto to review pizza, pizzerias fell over themselves to get him to try theirs. This included the pizzeria we order from most often, Ambassador. When I pointed out to them all of the terrible things Portnoy represented, I was met with silence. Other prominent pizza places like Blondies and Pizzeria Libretto raised their hands. Only San Remo withdrew their invitation once they were made aware of the allegations, so if I have to order a pizza, perhaps it will be from them.
When BlogTO ran a piece that called Portnoy “controversial” the backlash from his followers was so vicious that BlogTO removed the writer’s name from the piece in order to shield her from abuse and threats. Post City News, which I will not be linking to, was also happy to interview Portnoy and breathlessly report what his scores were, earning them an unfollow from me. 9
So for now, I’m sticking to pizza made by someone for whom misogyny, bigotry, and sexual misconduct are disqualifiers: me10.
Switzer’s pastrami. A few weeks ago Beth and I were driving in our neighbourhood and she said, “I think I just saw a guy with a barbecue cart!” The next day I saw him again, but realized it wasn’t a barbecue cart. IT WAS A PASTRAMI CART! Had he somehow tapped into mind and discovered my fondest food cart dreams? A quick post to the Oakwood Village Facebook group confirmed that it was not just a wishful hallucination. A friend tracked down his instagram account and soon enough I was the owner of a fat, kraut-topped half-sandwich and pickle.
The meat was cut a little more thickly that I prefer and I think the spicing could be a little more assertive, but I am definitely not complaining about having pastrami of this quality within walking distance. Aside from the bread, Alexander Dalgliesh-Switzer makes everything else, including the mustard, and very excellent kraut and pickles. I was half-hoping that they would be mediocre so I could offer my fermenting services, but those services are absolutely not needed. Two days later he set up even closer to our house so I went again. It was maybe even a little better. If you’re in Toronto near Oakwood Village or Cedarvale, check Instagram to find out where he’s setting up next.
It was outdoors on the lovely patio and was well spaced and I should have known to trust that the Grape Witches would do it right.
Dear Non-Canadians: The flavour of all-dressed chips is a combination of ketchup, barbecue, and salt and vinegar. Given that I do not like ketchup or barbecue chips, it is odd that I like them.
You’re not following me in Instagram? Why not?
This is what is known as foreshadowing.
Standard practice for using a convection oven to make a recipe written for a conventional one.
Yes, physics pedants, I know that 85° is not ‘halfway’ in an absolute sense. Just go along with me here.
Give them away? I don’t think so.
And if you want to complain to me about ‘cancel culture’ just fuck right off and unsubscribe from this newsletter before I unsubscribe you myself. Louis CK won a Grammy this year.
And if that’s not bad enough, it was recently announced that New York’s Prince Street Pizza would be opening a location in Toronto. After a slew of terrible behaviour surfaced, including racial abuse, the mocking of Black Lives Matter protesters being hit by cars, and posting Blue Lives Matter stickers in their stores, the founders of Prince Street were forced to “step away from day-to-day operations” although not, presumably, profiting from them. Again, I’ll take my money to San Remo if I can’t make a pie myself.