My daughter, the great eater, loves chicken – grilled chicken, roasted chicken, chicken enchiladas, chicken dumplings, you name it. One hitch: when it comes to making chicken – I’m chicken.
I became a vegetarian at 7 when I suddenly realized that those cute, mouthy animals from Old McDonald’s Farm were the same ones on my plate.
To me, eating something that said moo or baa seemed just as creepy as eating something that meowed or woofed. So I rebuffed beef. I refused fish. I balk-balk-balked at chicken.
As an adult, I’m less of a bleeding heart, but after all those years of abstaining from meat, the damage was done – I just don’t have a taste for it anymore. Except, strangely enough, for bacon.
So I’m stuck being a vegetarian for the most part. And yeah, it’s considered healthy and planet friendly, but really, it’s a pain in the ass.
It’s hard to get enough protein. Ever taste a whey shake? Wouldn’t filet mignon be better?
It’s tough staying svelte when you live on carbs. I suppose some veggies stick to beans and kale but I’m more of a penne a la vodka type vegetarian, ya dig?
There have been many awkward moments at dinner parties, hiding chunks of meat beneath mashed potatoes or trying to slip them to the dog under the table. (The host never believes me when I swear I prefer side dishes anyway but it’s true – all my meals are like tapas. Thanksgiving is veggie nirvana. )
For all these reasons and more, I have no desire to inflict vegetarianism on my daughter. It will be her decision, like whether to pierce her ears or vote Democrat (though there will be 18 years of brainwashing guiding that one).
So I was psyched when I realized that my daughter loved chicken. I think it’s good for her. But I wasn’t too happy about having to cook it. As a vegetarian, I had avoided the cleaning and handling of raw chicken entirely and frankly I find it disgusting.
The idea that I could turn such a slimy gelatinous mess into an appetizing entrée seemed about as likely as going to bed with Newt Gingrich…
Even if I could get over the gross-out factor, I was very nervous about preparing the chicken properly. I mean, raw steak is tartare. Raw chicken is salmonella. I was scared of poisoning my family. I felt like I needed a hazmat suit to cook dinner.
Clearly, I needed some help. My man Dave is a master of the grill but oddly unfamiliar with indoor cooking, so I enlisted the aid of my friend Melissa and her husband Jim. In their kitchen, while our curious kids looked on…
I lost my chicken virginity.
Jim showed me how I could use the back of a fork to test the firmness of the chicken as it cooked. If it was squishy, it wasn’t done. This might seem basic to you, normal reader, but to me this was a revelation.
With one success under my belt, I felt confident enough to try cooking chicken at home, with a little help from The Food Network. Ina Garten taught me how to make lemon chicken breasts. Melissa D’Arabian had an easy trick for Chicken a l’Orange.
I made friends with my butcher. I learned about white meat vs. dark; organic vs. free range. I learned that the people waiting in line behind me would prefer that I ask fewer questions and just order already.
One night I asked Dave if he had any special chicken requests.
Apparently, he wanted to party like it was 1989.
But the whole purpose of my chicken odyssey had been to find something I could make for Viv that she would love. So I asked around about toddler-friendly chicken recipes, hitting paydirt with our babysitter. And that’s how I came to make Viv’s favorite, which I have dubbed Babysitter Chicken Soup.
Babysitter Chicken Soup, An Approximate How-To
You start by covering some bone-in chicken with lightly salted water in a pot. I used drumsticks (4-6) but chicken thighs would work too. Add a roughly chopped onion to the water with the chicken. It’s for flavor and will be removed later. Bring it to a boil, then simmer for about 90 minutes, with the lid of the pot half on.
While it’s cooking, prep some carrots and celery in nice bite sized pieces for baby.
Add the veggies to the soup and cook for another half hour or so. Towards the very end, add some pasta and cook however long it says on the box. I like these farfalline because they are a perfect size for Viv to eat without choking.
Extract the onion. It’s done its job. Turn off the heat. The chicken should be falling off the bones by now, but you can help it along with a knife, removing the bones and returning the meat to the pot to serve. A bowlful looks sort of like this.
Viv eats it up, but not with a spoon. She likes her chicken soup deconstructed.
I’m pretty pleased with myself, though admittedly it’s been weird making so many dishes without tasting them. I’m sure that breaks every law of cooking. One time I made myself try a tiny bit.
It tasted like…chicken.
If you have any foolproof, non gross chicken recipes or tricks, please leave them here for Kid Carnivore and her chicken mommy.