Sunday, August 18, 2019

Drunkard's Chicken: How Maya Angelou taught me to cook (one thing, at least)

The late Maya Angelou was an amazing, caring, talented woman. Not only was she a deeply gifted writer and poet, she was also a brilliant dancer and singer. Most people probably know all of that. But, did you know that on top of all her other gifts, she was a fabulous chef as well?

Hallelujah! The Welcome Table by Maya Angelou
I can't cook much of anything, and I'm not particularly bothered by that fact. But I did give it a try for awhile, about a decade or so ago when my marriage was new enough that I still tried to feed my husband once in a blue moon. He didn't expect it, but it was a nice treat for him when it happened. I mostly went in for the simplest of recipes with the least prep and bother. Or I'd just buy frozen meals and make rice as a side. We lived in England at the time, and there were some marvelous frozen Indian meals as well as a very tasty chicken cordon bleu I could get at the grocery store.

Around this time I found an inexpensive used copy of Angelou's book "Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes." It's as much a memoir as it is a recipe book, so it's a good read even if you're not interested in tackling the cooking.

Most of Angelou's recipes are not for anyone whose approach to cooking is lazy or who is easily befuddled when following recipes (both of which describe me). Her recipes sound fantastic, but I will never know firsthand, not if I have to be the one to whip 'em up.

Except for one. One recipe in her book is so easy even I couldn't mess it up, and the final product is a knockout.

I'm referring to "Decca's Chicken, Drunkard Style," or Drunkard's Chicken, as I like to call it. It was inspired by Jessica Mitford, known as Decca to friends. (Mitford was one of the Mitford sisters, a group of six aristocratic British sisters who were well known for their status, style, political views and, for Jessica and Nancy, as authors.)

Angelou tells a story that culminates in Decca popping the cork on a bottle of white wine and drinking half as she put a chicken in a casserole dish with some celery, onions, and seasoning. And the rest of the bottle of wine.

Then, presumably tipsy from the vino, she took a nap with the bird in the oven. When her husband came home, the chicken was cooked to perfection.

What my husband thought "looks like Christmas
morning." Granted, I cooked so rarely a simple
baked chicken was a thrill.
I altered the recipe a bit to my style and lower tolerance for alcohol. I drank about a third of a glass of chardonnay as I put the chicken in a cooking pan and covered it with salt and pepper. Then I opened a pouch of casserole vegetables from the store, which was a pre-cut bag of celery, carrots, onions, green beans and baby potatoes. I poured on a half cup of water, followed by a cup of chardonnay. Then I simply cooked for 2 hours or so at 190C/375F (if you give it a go, follow directions for cooking duration on the chicken's packaging if available, or look up online how long to cook a whole bird the size you bought). About an hour in I spooned some of the juices over the chicken or drizzled a little more chardonnay on top.

That's it. It came out perfect and delicious! I don't like most vegetables, but these were sweet and tasty from the wine (and I suppose infused with the chicken flavor as well). My husband looked through the oven door the first time I made it and said it looked like Christmas morning.

Angelou's version recommends you drink a full glass of wine as you cook and her list of veggies is a bit different from mine. Also, she has the chicken cut into pieces rather than whole. To see her exact recipe, go here, or pick up a copy of her book.

I made this several times when I first found the recipe, but I haven't made it in awhile. I plan to give it a go again soon, and hopefully before Christmas morning!

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