Slow roast chicken for the soul

Published: Apr 26, 2019, 07:30 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

If nothing else, home cooking teaches us how you cannot truly feed anyone else unless you first learn to feed yourself daily

I've roasted many chickens in my lifetime. But Wednesday evening's success inspired me to rethink my relationship with cooking. Representational Pic/Getty Images
I've roasted many chickens in my lifetime. But Wednesday evening's success inspired me to rethink my relationship with cooking. Representational Pic/Getty Images

Rosalyn D'melloOn Wednesday evening, as I began to carve the corn-fed chicken I'd purchased on Easter Sunday but didn't make then, because I already had a spread resembling half a feast, I struggled to repress the feeling of pride that had welled up inside me.

Many home cooks are daunted by the prospect of making a whole roast chicken in an oven. Me, I do it as part of my elegant routine of daily household chores, as if I were simply toasting bread. I allowed the chicken to defrost, then left it in the fridge.

The next day, I made a quick marinade using an olive oil base, into which I spooned some ginger-garlic paste, balsamic vinegar, Kashundi (Bengali mustard), the juice of one orange -- finally seasoning it with salt and pepper. I massaged it over the chicken, rubbing it into the skin.

Then, I took the remains of the squeezed orange, soaked it in the marinade, and used it as a stuffing, so the insides would be moist even while it was baking. I left the chicken to marinate for almost two days. On Wednesday, I took it out around 6.30 pm, pre-heated the oven, then stuck it in, controlled the temperature by relying on my intuition, and continued with my packing while it cooked, occasionally returning to the kitchen to check on it; at intervals, rubbing butter over and under the skin so I could get a satisfying glaze. When I bit into the flesh later, I was amazed by the warm orange-balsamic-ginger-garlic flavour that had seeped in so delicately and unassumingly.

I've roasted many chickens in my lifetime. But Wednesday evening's success inspired me to rethink my relationship with cooking. For almost 10 years, I've been decidedly sure that the source of my most ultimate joy comes from the process of writing. But of late, because I've been spending more time than usual in my kitchen, experimenting with flavours, playing around with recipes, I've found that I'm more at peace there than anywhere else in the world. It's almost as if it had become a studio space into which I carry everything I experience in the world within and beyond my apartment… small instances of flavouring I saw on a television show, a tip from a friend about plating, memories of having savoured something profoundly tasty, or encounters with strangers at butcher shops and ensuing anecdotes about tweaked recipes.

Because I've been feeling so burnt out by the sheer volume of freelance writing I have to do to earn my livelihood, I began to wonder if it wasn't time to finally make the switch and derive my financial sustenance through the act of feeding.

Cooking has been a part of my discipline. I have many single friends who don't quite feel the same, because they're unable to wrestle with the idea of cooking solely for themselves.

I've been trying really hard to dismantle this reluctance of theirs. Their main qualm is that they are unable to accommodate cooking into their daily routines because by the time they return from work, they feel too exhausted and cannot muster the energy required to play with ingredients.

While making my third loaf of sourdough in a three-day span, it struck me that the fundamental flaw is in how we have conditioned ourselves to conceive of our time as not quite belonging to us. When you actively decide to be a home cook, especially if you live independently, you have to allow yourself to commit to a different notion of time. You have to find ways to synthesize your work routine with your cooking routine. In my opinion, the best way to do it is to allow both to envelop each other.

It's really not as complex as we make it out to be.

The ability to feed oneself well, and selfishly, is one of the best virtues we can practice as single women. If we allow ourselves to engage in it as if it were a discipline, we might begin to allow ourselves to be transformed by the practice of it. It is a strange irony that in this Netflix era, we watch more cooking shows than ever before but don't really wrestle with ingredients in very meaningful ways. Were we to put food at the centre of our lives, it would immediately make us political beings, because we would inevitably evolve a greater consciousness about the source of our ingredients, the ethics of feeding and the very real problem of hunger and starvation.

More importantly, we would learn so much about deriving validation, not from people, but from ourselves, while also allowing ourselves to be transformed and not defeated by occasional failures.

As single women, we have the luxury of placing ourselves as the primary consumers of our own cooking. If nothing else, home cooking teaches us how you cannot truly feed anyone else unless you first learn to feed yourself daily, because to do so is to allow for a radical degree of self-love.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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