Monday, December 01, 2008

On Glamour's "Engagement Chicken" and Who I Cook For

Common sense would dictate that I get up early on Thanksgiving to begin cooking for 18 people. But where's the fun in that? The day before, I bought an organic chicken from the San Gabriel Superstore for $6.99. The only reason I bought an organic chicken was because I intended to make com ga Hai Nam (Hainanese chicken rice) since lil' sis was home. But whole chickens have been just as expensive lately, so I decided to make my salt, pepper, lemon basic baked chicken and update the pictures in my original post instead. Lil' sis and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch of baked chicken before running around like chickens with our heads cut off from cooking all day.

Look at that fabulously crispy skin.

Salt, Pepper, Lemon Basic Baked Organic Chicken 1

And moist breast meat. Normally I don't like white meat, but this recipe turns out juicy breast meat every time. Too bad the organic chicken was rather flat-chested or there'd be a lot more breast meat to enjoy.

Salt, Pepper, Lemon Basic Baked Organic Chicken 2

My recipe was adapted years ago from Glamour Magazine's "engagement chicken," which was an adaptation from Marcella Hazan's "More Classic Italian Cooking." It was an OK recipe, but a little bland. So I added Judy Rodgers' "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook" method of salt rubbing the chicken. Add in lots of lemon juice and garlic and rosemary. Roast some potatoes in the same pan to soak up the juices. And it's become one of my and lil' sis' favorite dishes.

The original recipe was dubbed "engagement chicken" because an editor at Glamour passed the recipe on to her assistant, who made it for her boyfriend. He proposed a month later. Two other engagements resulted from that chicken recipe.

I passed on my recipe to several of my friends who were waiting for marriage proposals. They didn't make the chicken, but got the proposals and married anyway.

Once, when my mom had asked what my friends were up to, I jokingly mentioned passing along the recipe and why. She was so upset! Something about how I'm passing along all my luck to others. I'll never get married now! If you couldn't already tell, my mom is just a tad superstitious.

I don't know if this chicken really has all that much power. I think it's more that baking a whole chicken signals a sense of "homeyness," so if a man were already so inclined, this would nudge him over. I have yet to bake this for a "man."

I make my salt, pepper, lemon basic baked chicken when lil' sis comes home because she loves it and I love her. I baked it when cousin Q's dad sent over a whole chicken and asked if I would make it for his little brother for dinner. I make it when I find a whole chicken on sale for less than $3. So no, I don't save this recipe for only special occasions or to tempt someone to propose.

While my dad appreciates that my mom cooks well, he didn't marry her because she can cook. Yes, it certainly helps, but my dad taught me long ago to eat what's placed in front of me. When my Chinese half-uncle lived with us for a while, after we called him to dinner, he'd look to see what we're having. If he didn't like it, he wouldn't sit down to eat. Never do that, my dad taught me. Appreciate the time and effort that my mother made to cook dinner each night for us. While some dishes were loved more than others, we always appreciated the cook more than the food.

Who do you cook for? What are your specialties? And if any of my recipes inspires a proposal, do let me know. ;)

1 year ago today, 8 random things about me.
2 years ago today, random musings about food, family, and etiquette.


  1. I like hearing the evolution of recipes - yours has had quite the history! My youngest brother used to do that when he lived at home - look to see what's for dinner before he deigned to stay. I was more annoyed, I think, that my parents let him do it.

  2. Oh, don't even get me started on superstitious mothers! My mom has a superstition about everything. Gah!

    I cook for my family. It sounds corny, but I get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I make home-cooked meals that both Sonny and Hubby love.

  3. I had the urge to slap that half-uncle of yours for being so rude! That was what we were taught too: eat what's in front of you, especially if and when you're a guest in somebody's home. But I'm afraid this kind of courtesy is dying, especially with the ubiquity of "I want it done my way!"

  4. Hmm, I am interested why your half-uncle did that. That doesn't sound like something that would happen in Asian cultures.

  5. the chicken, indeed, looks so amazing!!! :)

  6. Really nice post WC ! I was taught to eat what I have in my plate as well.
    Everytime I call my husband to come eat, before we start, he always thanks me for the meal. I appreciate it very much !

  7. the chicken looks good and I like a recipe with a history behind it. It's so nice of your dad to appreciate the food your mum cooks.
    I normally cook for the hubby, ocassionally for my best friend but when it comes to party food it's defintely the hubby in the kitchen (I would just panic too much and started messing the whole thing up). My specialities are 'kho' dishes e.g. thit heo kho or thit ga kho gung etc.

  8. Nikki,
    Oh that's rude. I can't believe your parents let him get away with it either.

    That's not corny at all. I enjoy cooking for my sister b/c she truly appreciates it. My brother just says, "I'm eating it, aren't I?" To be fair, he does buy me dinner, but he doesn't appreciate when I cook as much as my sister does.

    My Chinese half-uncle was really strange all around so rudeness was the least of my worries. But yeah, nowadays, it seems like guests are dictating what the host should be serving them. Just eat what you can and leave it at that. But everyone has special diets and requests now.

    He came direct from Hainan Island so who knows?


    Jan Frederick,
    Haha. I knew the saying, didn't know the story behind it. I always appreciate your extensive feedback after you try my recipes. I'm so glad they've worked out for you.

    Sounds like you married a good man! He knows to appreciate you very much. :)

    You get too stressed out lady. It's just food. Family and friends will appreciate your efforts no matter what you serve.

  9. That is some seriously moist chicken breast!

  10. I cook for people i care for; family, close relatives and best friends. I find that when you cook for your loved ones, it turn out better cos you put care and love along in the cooking process, ensuring the meal will turn out good. Nothing more satisfying than having them literally lick off the plate!

  11. What is there about roasted chicken that inspires memories and stories? The first roast chicken I made was from a recipe I tore from the LA Times Magazine. The writer talked about how this would be her request for her last meal. Someone she knew regularly made the meal for his dying wife.

    I don't need to refer to the recipe any more, but I still keep it because of the story.

    I like the idea of salt rubbing ala the Zuni chicken. I'll have to give that a try because that's the most succulent looking breast I've ever seen on a roasted chicken.

  12. Pam,
    It's not a quick recipe, but it yields the best results. Can't speed up that salt rub brining time.

    I have your roast pork and duck recipes bookmarked. And your last pumpkin dish was awesome too. Serve me any of those and I'd be licking my plate too! :)

    I think it goes back to that sense of homeyness that people long for. Roast chickens take time to cook and time to eat. In the rush for everything these days, time seems like such a luxury. Salt rubbing is the best. It really does make a difference to let the salt soak in and do it's work for an hour. And the hour-and-a-half cooking time results in fall-off-the-bone tenderness. Speed up either, and the roast chicken won't be the same. So time it is.

  13. I love the story behind this recipe and can totally relate to your dad's advice! We were definitely taught to eat what was in front of us, down to every last rice kernel whether we liked it or not! My hubby's family is the opposite - his mom will sometimes make 2-3 different things for dinner just to satisfy everyone's tastes - drives me nuts sometimes! Will have to try this chicken soon, despite being already married! :)

  14. Linda,
    No way! Trying to please everyone like that is too much work and I bet your husband's family doesn't even appreciate her efforts! When my niece gets fussy, my sister-in-law makes her eat it anyway. Says she doesn't want to raise a picky eater.


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