Sunday, November 08, 2009

Comfort Food

I'm about to try yet another roast chicken recipe, this time courtesy of Mark Bittman, the Minimalist of the New York Times. It's a high-heat recipe. We'll see.

Roast chicken was one of my mother's go-to recipes when I was growing up. She made it with a wonderful gravy that sometimes had caramelized onions, sometimes sauteed mushrooms. Mashed potatoes. Green beans or some sort of other green veg.

I liked the chicken, but it was the gravy and the mashed potatoes that made it comfort food par excellence. The gravy would sit in the middle of the potatoes, in a crater created by the ladle, and the challenge was always to maintain that lava pool of gravy for as long as possible, not letting it flow down the side of the pile of spuds. To this day I'm not sure why it was important. It just was.

My uncle the priest usually called at about 2 pm each Sunday to see if he wanted to invite himself to dinner. If it was roast beef or pork or lamb, he'd come to our house. If it was roast chicken, he wouldn't. He didn't know what he was missing.

When the weather turns colder, I'm usually turning toward comfort recipes like this. At our house, we may modify them a little bit (we'll have caulflower puree and sauteed tatsoi with some shallots and sherry vinegar as our sides), but there is something so elemental about a simple meal like this, so reminiscent of childhood. It feels good.

That isn't to say that all the cuisine of my mother's kitchen was transcendent and pure - she was a fan of Duncan Hines cake mixes and My-T-Fine puddings. In the same way, I'm liable to zap a microwave pizza when I'm tired and hungry and craving carbs and fat and salt. Not very satisfying, except in filling the belly quickly.

But there is something so very pleasurable taking the basics (a chicken, a pan, salt & pepper, an onion, some sage leaves) and transforming them into something that evokes powerful memories.

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