Time to turn to rotisserie chicken

Roasted bird fills the bill when refrigerator's empty

April 09, 2003|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Dinnertime was fast approaching and the refrigerator was empty.

Not empty in a "Gee, honey, we have no more Yoo-hoo and we're almost out of herbed brie" kind of way. But empty in the "There's nothing to eat unless you want a strawberry Go-Gurt that expired in 2002 with a hoisin-sauce chaser" kind of empty.

At any moment the wolves would be howling at the kitchen door, expecting some kind of evening sustenance. Pizza was out - we had that last night. Omelets and pancakes were, too - we were out of eggs. And milk. And maple syrup. And coffee, butter, flour, cheese, sugar and ham.

So I set out for the grocery store. Halfway down the dairy aisle, I detected the glorious smell of Sunday dinners from my childhood - a scent that was at once warm and friendly and comforting. The aroma was coming from somewhere behind the prepared-food counter. It was coming from a gaggle of hot, golden birds that had spent the last two hours turning slowly in a rotisserie oven.

Hot chicken. Say it loud and there's music playing.

Hot chicken. Say it soft and it's almost like praying.

Hot chicken.

I sidled up to the birds that had finished their turn on the carousel of meat and were now warming under heat lamps. I studied them closely. My stomach growled.

Hot chicken in the morning, hot chicken in the evening, hot chicken at suppertime. OK, maybe not in the morning. But with one 2-pound rotisserie chicken, I could feed two hungry adults and one picky 5-year-old and still have enough for sandwiches the next day. I grabbed a chicken, tossed a loaf of warm French bread and a log of chevre into the cart and grabbed a bag of mixed greens and a pint of strawberries before heading to the cash register.

Hot chicken and the living is easy.

Here's the point where I need to convince you, the reader, that I know how to cook. Just this year I hit upon the perfect method for roasting chicken at home, one involving garlic-herb butter and deep-tissue massage that turns out a moist, tasty roast chicken that would make my Nonna proud.

And, yes, I fully understand that a whole $6 rotisserie chicken from the grocery store costs more than twice what a raw chicken a few aisles over costs. But roasting a chicken takes 20 minutes per pound, and it was already dinnertime.

And, finally, I also know that lots of places - from warehouse stores to fast-food emporiums to gourmet groceries - sell lots and lots of delicious rotisserie chickens. But because I didn't need a case of juice boxes, an enormous fat-laden meal or a head of $6 organic radicchio, I stuck closer to home.

On the way home, the chicken filled my car with its sweet perfume and gave me a warm-pizza-box-on-the-lap sense of happiness. I congratulated myself on my healthful, fast dinner choice and basked in the glow. (Hot chicken!)

I'm not the only fan of rotisserie chicken. Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten writes of his obsession to replicate a memorable rotisserie chicken he once ate in an Italian hill town in his book It Must Have Been Something I Ate: The Return of the Man Who Ate Everything.

"It's not difficult to tell when you've got it right," he writes. "Dark and crispy skin, intensely savory, covering every square millimeter of the bird with no unsightly white patches, ... all the flesh firm and full of chicken flavor ... Some people roast a chicken and then peel off and discard the skin. What is the point? If you can't stand the skin, stay out of the chicken."

Mmmm. Roast chicken skin. Why is it that I swill Diet Coke and always order my salad dressing on the side, but I can't resist the fatty, crispy allure of the skin from a freshly roasted bird? The plastic cover on my rotisserie chicken made the skin less crispy and more soggy, but as chicken-skin addicts know, that's really no skin off our ... um ... bird.

In Swell: A Girl's Guide to the Good Life, hip chick style mavens Cynthia Rowley and Ilene Rosenzweig advocate passing off takeout rotisserie chickens as your own at dinner parties with the help of a handful of fresh rosemary and some home-roasted potatoes and root vegetables. "Nothing's simpler than roast chicken, especially if someone else already did the roasting," they write. Then they remind the reader to dispose of any and all chicken bags and boxes before guests arrive.

And what about those ubiquitous infomercials for Ronco's Showtime Rotisserie Grill that have the studio audience chanting "Set in and forget it" and feature testimonials of converts insisting that as God is their witness, they will never, I repeat never, buy another rotisserie chicken again?

Love the infomercials, hate the price. Coming up with five easy payments of $19.99 for yet another single-use appliance is out of the question. The Marcato Atlas pasta maker I had to have when I got married is still in its box, and my 10-year wedding anniversary is this summer.

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