I have a confession to make, I’m a recovering alektorophobic. Well, that’s not entirely true as I was never actually afraid of chickens. But for fifteen years, chicken did not cross my lips. Steak, veal, pork – especially bacon – fish, shellfish, I ate it all. But not chicken. Never chicken. My mother had murdered chicken.
My mother was many things, but a chef she was not. She could grill a steak to medium-rare perfection, brown and grilled on the outside, rosy pink on the inside with just the right amount of juice bursting to the surface as the knife slid through the meat for the first time. She also put together a tasty, mostly from-scratch Thanksgiving dinner – until she discovered instant mashed potatoes. She toyed with cooking classes briefly – there was a microwave cooking class the results of which I’ve effectively blocked from memory – but for the most part she was an indifferent cook.
Growing up, breakfast consisted of milk and the cereal of my choice – Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Coco Pebbles, Smurfberry Crunch, nothing was forbidden. If you questioned the nutritional value of such breakfast choices Mom would remind you that cereal was fortified and we were eating it with milk. She had a point.
Mom, who never met a processed food she didn’t like, used them all in my school lunches. Beef jerky – the flat, rectangular kind that came by the hundreds in a big plastic jar with a red lid – Goldfish crackers, a mini-candy bar or cookies, Capri Sun and a box of Sun Maid raisins, because although raisins are mostly dried nuggets of sugary sweetness, they are fruit after all. I had the most envied lunch on my elementary school campus. The trouble was dinner.
There was no easy solution to dinner. Trips to McDonald’s and frozen Swanson dinners or pot pies were a once-a week or twice-a week solution but even Mom didn’t feel ok with serving those up on a nightly basis. So Mom mostly made spaghetti – with “Oh, Boy!” garlic bread found in the freezer aisle – and chicken.
Not just any chicken, either. Mom made “drummettes.” Four nights a week we feasted on rice and some version of drummettes, little tiny chicken legs that came from tiny chickens or baby chickens or a smaller bird masquerading as a chicken. SimplyRecipes.com tells me they are actually the part of the wing that looks like a little chicken leg, but I have my doubts.
There was barbeque chicken night – drummettes covered with barbeque sauce. “Italian chicken night” – drummettes covered with Italian dressing. “Lemon chicken” – drummettes basted with . . . lemon juice. The drummettes rarely came in the company of a vegetable. But I can guarantee there was dessert, probably ice cream, which was pretty much the only part of dinner Mom ever ate. After years of this drummette regimen, I escaped for college and began boycotting chicken.
The boycott wasn’t intentional, it just evolved. I refrained from ordering and eating chicken; not a hard thing to do in college when sustenance consisted of pizza and beer when you were feeling flush, veggie burritos when the budget became tighter, and Saltines at the end of the month.
After college, my disdain for chicken became more entrenched and obvious. Some of my friends developed disturbingly difficult food tendencies. While there were a vegetarian or two, they weren’t the problem; it was the people who wanted to “be healthy.” They constantly wanted to share the “healthier” chicken dishes forcing me to head off their chicken foisting by proclaiming “I don’t eat chicken.” This answer was never sufficient. Neither was “I don’t like chicken,” which led to my friends’ employment of unpersuasive persuasion tactics – “But this chicken is sauced really well” or “This is free range chicken, it tastes totally different than regular chicken.” No, it doesn’t.
I read a snippet in some magazine that 99% of chicken is diseased. I didn’t read the actual article – which had something to do with the need to properly cook chicken – but I stashed this tidbit in my arsenal and pulled it out on a regular basis. “Healthier? Did you know 99% of chicken is diseased? I’ll stick with the steak.”
Over the years, the chicken lovers – and I mean that to refer only to those fond of eating dead chickens – wore me down. I started consenting to eating chicken if it was “heavily disguised” – so sweet and sour and panang chicken insinuated themselves into my dining repertoire.
Finally, my milkshake-melting metabolism revolted. Faced with the need for lowfat protein and a husband who’s more meat-and-potatoes than vegan, I crumbled like the topping of a Dutch Apple pie. I learned to cook, and eat, chicken. After a fifteen-year hiatus chicken is bland but not half-bad, especially when spices other than Italian and barbeque are added. I now cook or eat chicken once a week, but I still boycott drummettes.