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Tantric Chicken by Mara A. Cohen Marks

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Tantric Chicken

by Mara A. Cohen Marks

September 2014    

My husband hadn't complained, but the warning signs were clear. Internet shopping one night after dinner, I came across a multi-volume encyclopedia of gastronomy he'd placed in our Amazon cart. More and more often, he'd call to say things were crazy at the office and wouldn't be home in time for dinner. I guess both of us were bored with the same thing night after night.

I typically stay away from purveyors of elaborate accessories, but I was looking for just the right something to bring some lovin' back to my oven. That’s how I wound up in Williams-Sonoma fondling the 6-inch enamel-coated shank of my new vertical roasting pan. The shopboy who rang me up said satisfaction was guaranteed. “It’s French,” he intoned.

I've never done it upright and certainly never upside-down. But that's how the maneuver was pictured in the owner's manual. I'll confess the thought of an erect chicken with its rump in the air made me hot and bothered. Well, bothered anyway. You see, I’d always done it lying down and nearly always under covers.

My old standby has been a technique I picked up from my mother. The secret sauce is Wishbone's Russian dressing trickled liberally over the bird. I keep the temperature steady at a medium-high heat, basting now and then to keep things moist. This method yields succulent flesh that melts off the bone and is especially appealing with a scattering of young and tender new potatoes. If the mood calls instead for something luscious and exotic, I might drizzle on a little honey, thrust an aromatic mixture of dried fruit and pistachios into the cavity and spoon up some warm, fluffy couscous.

It wasn't until I’d settled into a committed, loving relationship that I had enough confidence to cook my bird with the lid off and the heat turned way, way up. I'm not into bondage, so I leave my trussing to my butcher’s strong, confident hands.

These days, though, I have a sushi place on speed dial. I think I'm like a lot of people who experience difficulty getting in the mood when evening rolls around. When I bother lighting my pilot, it's usually for a quickie -- some thighs sprinkled with dried herbs or a couple breasts for soup when someone catches cold. But take it from me, my new apparatus is culinary ecstasy. The cast-iron shaft radiates heat through your core, and the result is fantastically satisfying.

For my maiden effort, I preheated the oven to 450-degrees. Meanwhile, I rinsed the chicken and gently patted it down with a paper towel. With that out of the way, I eased a few lemon wedges and onions into the cavity. Next I used my bare hands to slather my bird from top to bottom with a extra virgin olive oil. I seasoned with garlic, pepper, salt, and lots of paprika, but you can spice yours up any way that gets your juices flowing. I made sure to give mine plenty of time to luxuriate and marinate before plunging it atop the roaster’s sturdy protrusion. I left an inch or two at the base of the shaft so my bird wouldn’t end up sitting in its own drippings.

The results were splendid -- tawny skin and juicy meat. My husband's always been more of a thigh man, though he devoured the breasts with wild abandon. But what he said while we were washing the dishes really made me blush. “That was so good,” he sighed contentedly, “you should do it for company!”

  Mara A. Cohen Marks lives in Los Angeles and shares her kitchen with her husband and daughter. Her essays and stories about food, love and the American dream have appeared in The Hairpin, Pentimento, New America Media, Los Angeles Daily News, LA Business Journal and La Opinion, and elsewhere. She’s a mediocre cook, but she makes a damn good roast chicken. Read more of her stories at Photo provided by author.