Thursday, February 4, 2010

Instructions from the motherland

The tale I’m about to tell will shock and horrify the majority of my readers. No, it’s not one of those kind of stories, although I do have a few of those from way back when…but I digress. This is a completely innocent story, featuring chicken soup and grandmotherly advice. See, last Monday I bought some chicken thighs at the grocery store. I shoved them to the back of the fridge, and promptly forgot about them. I belatedly remembered the chicken on Friday, and stuck the package in the freezer. If you’re keeping track, so far that’s raw chicken, kept for five days in the refrigerator.

Tuesday morning The Pit said he wanted chicken soup for dinner, so before leaving to babysit OL, I took the chicken out of the freezer and put it back in the fridge to defrost. Come Tuesday afternoon, I deposited it in the sink for a couple of hours of further defrosting, before opening the package to begin my customary de-fatting process* around 4 PM. That’s when I noticed a distinct odor coming from the meat. A sort of fruity and vinegary smell all at the same time. A smell that was definitely not normal.

* I’m just a touch OCD about picking the large chunks of fat off the chicken thighs before throwing 'em in the pot to make soup. Everyone laughs, but this evisceration results in delicious broth.

I briefly pondered throwing the chicken out, but two things stopped me. First of all, The Pit insists that I buy expensive organic chicken at Trader Joe’s. Throwing that chicken out would be like tossing a crisp five dollar bill in the trash can, and then following it up with some singles so it wouldn’t get lonely. Secondly, I didn’t have any back-up frozen chicken in the freezer, so tossing the meat would have required me to get back into my street clothes, venture out into the freezing cold, and drive to the grocery store to buy more thighs. After all that, dinner would be late. So to summarize, because I’m too frugal to throw away $7, and too lazy to waste 45 minutes buying more meat, I was willing to risk poisoning us both.

But! Before you get all flabbergasted on me, keep in mind my clever next move. I knew that if I consulted American friends or the Internets, I would be summarily told to throw the chicken away. Instead, I picked up the phone and called my grandparents, who had spent 40ish years cooking in Soviet Russia, where you definitely ate whatever came your way after standing in line for hours in sub-zero temperatures. There was no way that people raised in such an environment would let a little smell stop them from using almost-perfectly-good meat.

My grandpa answered the phone, listened to my chicken history, and reassured me that if I gave the thighs a thorough washing, all would be well. I was relieved, until he added that I would definitely be able to tell if the meat was still off by tasting the soup before serving it. Nevertheless, I began washing the thighs, a process made all the more thorough by the previously mentioned de-fatting.

Just when I had both hands wet and covered by potentially poisonous raw chicken, the phone rang. It was my grandmother, calling me back with more detailed instructions. She informed me that I should wash the thighs in warm water, then again in cold water, then keep them covered in cold water with a teaspoon of vinegar for five minutes, then rinse the vinegar off with more cold water, and only then cook the chicken per the usual routine. Greatly reassured, I did as I was told…there was no way such a wealth of folk knowledge could possibly be wrong.

Half-way through this process The Pit arrived home. Fortunately, he was quickly distracted by internet videos, and did not ask me what the chicken was doing soaking, or why I kept smelling little chunks of it before throwing them in the soup pot. These questions would have been problematic, since a) I’m a terrible liar, b) once the truth was discovered, I was fairly certain he would have stopped my whole complicated washing procedure by throwing away the meat, and c) the tossing of the chicken would then have been followed by pointed comments about my heritage. All in all, it’s a good thing he was engrossed in the laptop and didn’t look up to my acting all furtive and suspicious in the kitchen.

Anyway, as it turns out, my grandmother was 100% correct in her assessment. The soup was delicious, and neither one of us was even a little bit poisoned. Now that 48 hours have passed, the leftovers have all been consumed, and there is no longer a risk of placebo-induced stomach cramping on The Pit’s part**, I am publishing this triumph of Russian culinary skills for the world to admire.

** And for the record, I'd like my future in-laws to note that I would never truly risk poisoning your prodigal son. If the highest authority*** had so ordered, I would have thrown the chicken away.
*** My grandmother, of course.

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