I will now describe how to become very intimate with a chicken.
Grab the carcass with both hands and lay it down in a baking pan. Flip it over, breasts up. Spread its legs. Find the body cavity and clear it of any debris — severed neck, pouch of organs, etc. — then trace your finger along the edge of the cavity to find the cold, loose flesh extending over it, like a hood. Lift this flesh, gently, and insert your finger under the skin. Cautiously, probingly, push your finger under the skin, separating it from the smooth, bare flesh. With the right touch, the skin will lift easily.
Turn the chicken around, face-forward, and do the same to the skin on the upper breasts. Switch positions, now, and spin it onto its back. Cut a small slit (a knife would be handy here) into the skin on the center of each of its thighs. Insert your pinky finger and, without widening the slit too much, lift the skin as before. Now, grab a handful of nearby sage leaves and introduce them, leaf by leaf, under the skin you’ve loosened from every part of the body: over the breasts, along the thighs, even into the nook where the legs meet the torso (this might require some force). Don’t stop until the whole body is thick and rumpled with hidden sage leaves.
Good. Step back a moment, and observe your handiwork. If you’re satisfied, wash your hands — please, wash your hands — and wipe the tiny beads of sweat from your upper lip. Calm your breath. All you need now is a little salt and olive oil. The chicken is nearly ready. You’ve done it.
And trust me, when it comes out of the oven an hour later, golden and glistening and wrapped in subtle green dark spots (the sage leaves), you’ll know you’ve done it. You’ll be proud to say that it tastes just like chicken. And just think: you’ve come to know the bird so well. You’ve searched its body cavity. In cooking, that’s the trick: you’ve just got to give it some love.
But be ready; a raw chicken needs a lot of love.
Recipe: Roast Chicken with Sage
Serves four. Active time: 20 minutes. Actual time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
1 roasting chicken, approx. 3 – 4 lbs
3/4 cup fresh sage leaves (one supermarket package, or bunch, will do)
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 tbsp salt
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
Optional (but wonderful) additions:
1 tbsp fresh thyme
3 slices lemon
(1) Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
(2) Prepare the chicken in the method described above, inserting the sage leaves between the skin and the meat. It may help, especially on the thighs, if you roll up the sage leaves (sort of like a scroll) before inserting them.
(3) Rub the salt into the skin and drizzle the olive oil all over it. Give it a few dots of fresh pepper. If you have thyme, sprinkle it all over the outside of the body, especially the breasts. If you have lemon slices, insert them in the body cavity. You could also put the leftover sage and thyme stems in the body cavity.
(4) Roast the chicken in the oven at 500 degrees for ten minutes, then turn the heat down to 400 degrees and continue roasting until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the thigh reads 160 degrees. This is very important; the right temperature keeps it tender and moist, but not undercooked. I strongly recommend you purchase one at Shaw’s; they’re only a few bucks. If you absolutely do not have one, the chicken may (but really, who knows?) be ready when the skin is nicely browned and the leg joints move easily when jiggled. In any case, it will probably be about 50 minutes, total (that’s including the initial ten minutes at 500 degrees). But check frequently; you don’t want to overcook it.
(5) Let it sit five minutes, and dismember it. Enjoy.