While never a vegetarian, until recently I rarely cooked meat myself. The preparation of meat held many mysteries for me, and I'm not too fond of cutting it up. What I really hate is cutting a whole chicken into serving pieces. Or a turkey, whatever. This is true even when they are cooked. A whole bird just seems so large, so complete, so completely overwhelming!
My vegetarian friends and readers are probably smirking right now. Here is a grown-up thing they will never have to do. Also, they are probably preparing to skip reading this post.
A couple of weeks ago, Whole Foods was having a big special one-day sale on whole organic chickens. They were on sale for as much as you can buy a normal chicken at a non-fancy store. The signs all said, "Limit 10," so I guess people were planning to stock up. They were also local chickens, so they probably hadn't been sitting around too long. I wasn't going to make it to Whole Foods that day, so I asked my boyfriend to pick one up for me, or maybe two as I could store at least one in my freezer, and added that since the limit was ten, if he felt like freezing some too, buy as many as he wanted and I would pay for them and cook them over the next few months. I like roasting chickens; they are big enough to share and I usually manage to get someone else to do the cutting-up part. Well, a winter, spring, and potentially even a summer of roasted chicken was not to be; my boyfriend was only able to get one chicken at Whole Foods. It was the last chicken they had! As such, I decided it was destined for greatness. It was with this chicken that I would make my first coq au vin.
It wasn't until I had already gotten all of the other ingredients (specifically cheap vin) that I learned that coq au vin was not a simple roasted chicken. I wasn't going to just plop it into my big red pot with some Charles Shaw and sprigs of thyme, oh no. Coq au vin involves a whole chicken that is "cut into serving pieces" before it is cooked. It appeared that this time I was not going to con any dinner guests into doing the cutting for me. I would have to do it myself, and worse, when the chicken was still raw. Ew, ew, ew.
The day I'd make coq au vin was not clear. There was no special occasion. I didn't want to throw a big dinner party. I could have invited over a couple of friends. Finally, I chose the evening following a working Saturday. After leading a public tour, I wanted to do something relaxing and creative, like cooking a whole chicken just for the sake of learning the recipe. I invited my boyfriend to come over when it was done, but I knew we'd mostly be enjoying the leftovers for days and days to come. This was how, when it was late enough that I should have been eating dinner, not starting dinner, I began making coq au vin.
If I really knew how to cut up a chicken, this probably wouldn't seem like such a big task. But I am not always patient enough to read instructions. I toyed with the idea of just roasting the chicken and making the coq au vin sauce separately, but I resolve that, no, I wanted to do it the "right way." So I cut up that stupid chicken.
I am sure that somewhere out there, on Google or YouTube, there is a video tutorial on how to cut up a whole chicken into "serving pieces." I did not look for such a thing because I can handle "yucky stuff" better in real life than on a screen. I didn't want to see chicken bones and blood on YouTube, but in real life, I could convince myself that it was better to be acquainted with the reality of what I was eating.
Beyond "drumsticks," "thighs," and "wings," I wasn't quite sure what defined "serving pieces." I also wasn't really sure how to do it without breaking bones; I don't know if you can separate the leg and the thigh and the wings and then cut the main body into a "serving piece" without breaking bones. I guess there are special knives for cutting up chickens, but I have not yet gotten for my kitchen "good knives" and found myself having to snap the bones by hand. Maybe because it was "farm fresh" and hadn't been sitting in a freezer for months, but from this chicken spilled forth much more "reality" than other chickens I have bought and had to cut up. It wasn't exactly like a bloodbath on my cutting board, but there was no hiding from the blood and bone marrow made visible by my sloppy chicken preparation.
By the time my boyfriend arrived, the chicken was safely in the big red pot with Three Wishes (not Charles Shaw) and bacon bits and onions and mushrooms, and I was nearly done washing my knives and cutting board and plates in scalding water because I had a vague idea that you were supposed to disinfect your entire kitchen after cutting up raw meat in it. My boyfriend was blissfully ignorant of the scene that had been my kitchen table just an hour ago. That is when he informed me of the movie he had chosen for us to watch after dinner: 127 Hours.
I watched most of the movie with a pillow over my face, even as early as when Aron Ralston was just frolicking with some ladies in a pond, because you never know when a gory scene is coming up, and there was no way I could watch a guy cutting his arm off without thinking of that raw chicken.