I remember flavours the way some people recall sounds. They linger in the back of my mind like well-known tunes heard years before. And like a song whose chorus you can hear playing in your memory when you close your eyes and focus your mind, I feel and taste the dishes of my past when I turn back my thoughts.
Ten years ago in a small pub in the Victorian Alps I ate the greatest chicken of my life. It was rich, moist and irrepressibly succulent. I was caught in a moment that I never wanted to end. The bird was no factory chook, nor even a free-range bird, but a farm-reared chicken whose natural diet and life of free-scratching in the publican’s orchards had created a work of culinary art.
It was cooked impossibly simply. Dusted with a smattering of garlic powder and cinnamon, then oiled and baked whole on a rack set on a baking tray. The skin was fine and crisp, and the meat was perfectly tender. Most of all, it tasted extraordinary. It is the flavour I now understand to be the essence of chicken.
Farmyard chickens take up to six times longer to reach full size than a battery hen, making them economically uncompetitive. However, some things are not all about cost. Like great wine or sourdough bread the process may be long, but the results on your dining table make it all worthwhile.
For those of us unable to have backyard chooks, what can we do? Quite a lot, actually. Buy organic free-range chickens. For just a couple of extra dollars you will get poultry with many times the flavour. Ask your local butcher about the specialty birds he is able to order in for you. A little research and planning will pay off in big ways. Lastly, always cook chicken whole, on the bone and with the skin on. It retains more flavour and moisture this way. If you’re really fat-conscious you can always discard the skin once it’s cooked. Yeah, right!! You remember that flavour!
Sicilian style chicken with butter bean salad