At Cooking Chicken

The last five weeks of the year are always dedicated to the turkey. First there’s Thanksgiving, where turkey is served at one meal; then there’s the week after Thanksgiving, where turkey is served at every meal; and then, in some households, there’s Christmas, where there’s yet another turkey (and sometimes a ham, but we don’t talk about that). However, I’d like to take a break from the turkey love and pay tribute to another formerly feathered friend of mine.

In August, I moved into my first apartment and started providing for myself for the first time (my first year of college doesn’t count because I had a meal plan). My survival over the past three months has been entirely due to one bird in particular: the frozen chicken. It’s cheap. It’s versatile. It’s really, really difficult to mess up.

frozen chicken

Here we see the frozen chicken in its natural habitat. Originally from

And yet, for several weeks, I did nothing but exactly that. My first few weeks of self-sufficiency were marred by daily screw-ups involving frozen poultry, including but not limited to discovering the chicken was still partially frozen after I’d cooked it, having to put chicken back in the pan or the oven three times because it was still undercooked, and, my personal favorite, burning. (Protip: chicken crusted with charred garlic powder tastes surprisingly not awful.)

Some people treat cooking like art. I know this because I live with one of those people. His cooking experiments lead to things that taste like they came down from God’s own hors d’oeurve plate—I’ve learned from experience that if he says, “Hey, Shelby, wanna try this?” or “Hey, Shelby, want me to make that?”, I should always answer “OH GOD YES”. (Also, boys… he’s single. 😉 )

I am not one of those people. I cook solely because if I did not I would either go into debt buying takeout or starve to death. If you’re one of those people, too, first, high five because we are adults who fend for ourselves and we are still alive, and then take a moment to reorganize your priorities if you’re feeling insecure about your inability to use an oven. So cooking’s not your passion. So what? You’re not required to become the next Food Network Star. You’re just required to keep yourself alive until you can get a job good enough to allow you to afford to eat out, or until you get married to someone who can cook. In the interest of self-preservation, then, here’s a super-easy chicken “recipe” that it is literally impossible to mess up. Enjoy it—or at least don’t hate it—and move on to doing something more important.

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the realm of chicken preparation as creating a chicken dish that tastes decent, is not burnt, and will not give you food poisoning.

  1.        Thaw your chicken. If you’re a college student and you eat meat (sorry, vegetarians and vegans), then I highly recommend buying your chicken frozen. You can get a lot at one time for not a lot of money. Frozen chicken breasts are cheap, and thighs are even cheaper. When you buy frozen, though, you have to thaw it before you put it in the oven. You can do this way ahead of time (think 8+ hours) by moving the chicken you want to cook from the freezer to the refrigerator, but for more spontaneous cooks, there’s the option of putting the pieces you intend to cook in a bowl of water and letting them sit for anywhere from a half hour to two hours. Check it every so often by touching it and deciding if it feels more like a block of solid ice or a piece of actual flesh (which is what it is, so don’t be squeamish). Health note: always wash your hands after every time you touch chicken. Or any meat. Or a stray dog. Once the whole piece of chicken feels like it’s not frozen, you can move on to the next step.
  2.        Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. I don’t know how to further assist you with this step.
  3.        Get some foil. Place your chicken piece or pieces in the foil. Wrap them individually. BUT WAIT, BEFORE YOU WRAP IT—
  4.        Make it not boring. Plain chicken breasts are really, really bland. If you eat that all the time you are going to throw yourself off the roof of your apartment building in a matter of weeks. If you don’t have spices in your cabinet, go get some—to figure out what you should get, call your mom, your grandmother or a friend who can cook. I can tell you from experience that garlic powder and paprika go well on just about anything. Oregano and basil are good for Italian flavor; basically anything with the word “pepper” on it will make it spicy; you could probably add soy sauce to give your chicken a little Asian kick if you wanted. Experiment however you want, but be aware that this is college, so you’re gonna need to eat whatever comes out no matter how it tastes.
  5.        Wrap up the chicken in the foil. This does two things for you: it locks in the flavor and keeps you from having to do a lot of tedious cleaning up later.
  6.        Put the foil-wrapped chicken on a cookie sheet. You don’t even have to grease it.
  7.        Put the cookie sheet in the oven. Only do this if the oven is heated to 350. Every oven is different—usually there’s a little light or a bell that goes on or off to let you know your oven is ready.
  8.        Wait 20-25 minutes. Longer if you’re using thighs.
  9.      Put on some oven mitts and pull out your dinner. Make sure not to let the cookie sheet touch your bare skin—I found this out the hard way while baking cookies last week. (Scarring builds character.) The foil, however, will not be hot.
  10.    Serve with some kind of vegetable. We don’t want your parents to worry. Hope it’s decent!

Hey, now that you’ve eaten dinner, you can go like this page on Facebook and follow me on Twitter (@hownottosuckblg–no, no o)! 

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