In which our green-thumbed, five-starred and hatted Southern man provides a recipe… both for food and for living.
Joe Bennett shares his recipe for chicken – and, perhaps, life.
Want a recipe? Of course you do. Everyone wants a recipe. You’re not going to cook it. You’re just going to drool. That’s what recipes are for. There’s a TV channel devoted to making people drool. Food TV it’s called. It makes millions from drool. It makes millionaires from drool. Lisping Jamie. Indulgent Nigella. I don’t even need to give surnames. I heard Nigella interviewed on the radio recently. The interviewer grovelled, prostrated herself, protested her own unworthiness to conduct the interview, tossed dirt on her own skull. “Your wondrousness,” she said, when she regained the power of speech, “you’re a superstar.” Nigella did not demur. And all from a bit of cooking. All from recipes.
So here’s mine. Millionairehood, here we do not come. For I lack, you understand, the insincerity, the huckster’s heart. I am held back by the ball and chain of virtue. Ah well. I shall at least lie straight in my pauper’s grave.
The recipe: Herbed bird with butter. Whoa, control that salivation. Dab that drool. Pay attention. Here are the instructions that you’re never going to follow.
Buy a chook. I got a free range one by mistake. The cunning free-rangers had shoved it into a similarly coloured leak-proof double-skinned plastic sac to the one that the factory farmers use. By the time I noticed, I was at the checkout. The errant bird was $12. A factory one was $9. Reader, I bought it. It felt like putting three bucks in a collection box. But instead of getting a poppy I’d get, I hoped, a bird that tasted of liberty.
Spatchcock the bird. To do this, take it out of the bag, lay it on its front so it looks at its most anthropomorphous, hack the length of its spine with kitchen scissors, wrench open its ribcage, flip it over and then flatten it by placing the heel of your hand on the point of its sternum and leaning. Your spatch is now cocked. You are ready for the good bit. Go cut herbs.
Always grow herbs outdoors – never on the windowsill. That way, fetching them in feels like a gustatory expedition, a green forage, a chest-puffing raid on the world. Cut some of all the herbs you’ve got: oregano, basil, tarragon, parsley, sage, rosemary, simon, garfunkel, the lot. Cut a fistful, a great fat bunch, a bouquet of pungency. As you bring them into the house, walk slow and walk tall like a warrior returning. Hold the herbs high. Try to be seen. You grew them. You cut them. You are bringing them in. You have provided. If we do not sing our own anthems in this life, there is no-one who will sing them for us. Chop the herbs with your most spectacular kitchen knife, the one that would bring gasps from a jury. And as you go to it, bend low over the blade, draw in the ancient fragrances, the aromatics as old as cooking itself. This is good. Butter. Ounces of butter. Press the herbs into it with the back of a spoon. The butter will soften. The herbs will juice. You get greenspeckled gold. Anoint the bird. Smear it. Go to it with both hands. Wedge butter in and up and under. Rub it in, rub it over. This is about the doing and the being, the indulgence. Roast the bird golden. Roast the bird crisp. Let it stand for as long as you can without picking at it. Then pick at it, with fork or fingers, friends or dogs. Herbed bird with butter – dinner for god.