Wednesday, 21 September 2016 13:38

Pondering a poultry dilemma

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It’s nearly suppertime when a double chirp alerts me to an incoming text from my bff of more than 20 years, from back when tinned mushroom soup thinned with a little milk was considered haute home cuisine.

“Is there a way to tell if chicken is still okay to cook?” she writes.
Now, being of the “If you have to ask” school of thought when it comes to iffy poultry, I’m desperate to tell her to dump the whole tray pack, then give her the number of our favourite pizza place.
I know my friend, though.
With $30 of chicken breasts on the line, she won’t be so easily moved. And short of driving to the outskirts of the city to smell the meat myself, there’s not much I can do except type her through this.
“Just how old is this bird?” I write back.
Twenty minutes pass in silence, and while I imagine her getting her children set up with their homework, then loading the dishwasher so she has some room to prepare tonight’s dinner, I also imagine colonies of salmonella dividing and multiplying in the interim.
“I don’t think the bird’s so old,” she replies. “It was maybe in the fridge for a day and then I froze it ... then thawed it on counter ... but didn’t get chance to cook it, so put it back in fridge. I don’t think it ever entirely thawed.”
I put my phone down, pluck a slightly-overbaked banana muffin from a sealed no-name baggie she sent home with me recently, and cringe.
“Sounds suspicious to me,” I type. “I say toss it, but since I already know you won’t take my word for it, and if it wasn’t thawed with a hairdryer, and the chicken smells fine, it probably, maybe, perhaps, is fine.”
“Well, it has a bit of a sweet smell. What is a ‘fine’ smell for chicken?”
Although I want to say that chicken should smell like chicken, I ask, “Does the sweet smell make you feel gaggy?”
I’m imagining her entire family of four in the ER later tonight, barfing while getting continually triaged to the back of the line.
“Sweet can be the beginning of decomposition,” I add. “Or possibly it’s all the salt and sugar water they pump into chickens these days, to plump them.”
Even before I press Send, I know shouldn’t have offered an alternative theory.
“New rule,” I interject, quick as I can. “If in doubt, throw it out. Being violently ill isn’t as fun as advertised.”
“I’m just not there yet.”
“Okay. If you’re confident the chicken’s never been warm, hasn’t been laying about under a sunlamp for a worrisome length of time, then use rule number three, which is to cook that bird ’till it’s dead.”
“Okay, let’s try again. Does the smell make you think of those chickens on TV that are always trying to pretend they’re from Foster Farms?”
“It kinda makes me feel queasy when I really sniff it.”
By now I’m laughing, but have the sense to type, “Toss it! Toss it now!”
 “Or you could run to a neighbour for an impartial sniff.”
“Good idea!” she writes, and I can already imagine the look on her neighbour’s face. But before she’s across the lawn with her suspect chicken, she stops and adds, “Wish you were the neighbour.”
“Me too,” I type.
And I assume she lived.

Pan-Seared Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce
3-4 Tbs vegetable oil
4 fresh organic chicken breasts, skinned
10 large white mushrooms, sliced
6 shallots, peeled and sliced
1 cup fortified wine (Sherry, Madeira, Marsala)
1 cup organic chicken stock
1 1/2 Tbs cornstarch mixed with a little cold water
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
flaked kosher salt/freshly ground pepper

Lightly season chicken breast on both sides with salt and pepper.
In a large non-stick pan, heat  about 1 Tbs of the oil over high heat. Sear chicken breasts on both sides, then remove to a baking dish that has a fitted lid
Into the same pan, add another Tbs oil. Sear (brown quickly) shallots. Remove from pan, set aside. Heat a little more oil, then add mushrooms, and when mushrooms begin to lose their water, add shallots back in. Add 1 cup fortified wine, and allow to simmer briskly until liquid is reduced by 3/4.
Pour contents of pan over chicken. Bake in at 350F oven for 35 minutes or more, until chicken is cooked. Remove dish from oven. Remove chicken from dish, and then into the sauce stir the cornstarch. Add cream and parsley. Season to taste. Serve chicken with buttered egg noodles, slathered in sauce.

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