Su Lum: Slumming
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
A dear friend of mine has held a Third of July party every year for the past we-don’t-know-how-many years. Thirty? Thirty-five? More?
For this party, my friend makes a bean salad and his notoriously hot meatloaf. I bring chicken, and everybody else brings a dish of choice. Each year, we miss the dish usually brought by one who has, as Tukey Koffend used to say, “gone on ahead,” and we congratulate one another for having survived another year.
Usually I make variations of teriyaki chicken thighs, complete with bone and skin, but this year, I opted for boneless, skinless thighs, oven-baked, nice and crisp and easier to handle with a plate on your lap.
I washed the 40 thighs, dipped them in milk and then shook them in a plastic (hoarded) bag with flour, white pepper, salt, paprika and garlic powder. I turned the thighs in melted butter in two 10-by-16-inch pans and popped them into the 425-degree oven, noting that a substantial cloud of smoke puffed out when I first opened the oven door. Onward.
Fifteen minutes later, I looked up from the sink, where I was washing up globs of gummy flour, and saw flames licking at the glass door of the oven. Zut alors! There I was in a house full of oxygen tanks with a statewide fire ban in place.
I turned off the oven and prayed I wouldn’t have to empty the contents of a fire extinguisher onto the chicken, but gradually, the flames died down and then went out. Tempus was fugiting, and I was already going to be late to the party.
When I opened the oven door, a great cloud of nasty smoke filled the kitchen (and failed to set off the fire/monoxide alarm) as I hustled to enact Plan B, which was to fry the now-soggy thighs.
All’s well that ends. The chicken was not exceptional, but it was edible. Given sufficient delays, diners become too hungry to care. And that particular party is about the company, not the food.
This was not my first chicken mishap. The most spectacular disaster occurred when I prepared my never-fail chicken for a party of about 20 people held by my friend Nancy at her home on McSkimming Road.
The recipe is simple: Pour equal parts of cream of mushroom soup and heavy cream over chicken pieces, sprinkle with paprika, and bake at 350 for about an hour. The chicken will be crispy on top (keep the skins), with an ample gravy of soup, cream and chicken fat on the bottom – great with rice or mashed potatoes.
As I rounded the sharp curve before Nancy’s house, the pan of chicken and gravy slipped, sloshed and overturned. There were chicken pieces on the floor and the back seat and gravy dripping into the trunk.
We salvaged what we could and scraped up the rest with spatulas and rags. A good thing about chicken skins is that when the worst happens, you can always peel the skin off and eat the remains.
Three weeks later, my daughter Skye and I went to Grand Junction with my 3-year-old granddaughter Riley. We stopped for lunch while the car baked in the heat, releasing chicken fumes that first sickened Riley and, after we switched her into the front seat, almost made me pass out.
Even the professionals couldn’t get that chicken smell out of the car.
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