It is, in the most literal sense, the end of the line. 2012 has come to an end. And while I think making life changes or engaging in excessive introspection based on a fairly meaningless number in a made-up timeline is sort of bullshit, certain things deserve their due. One of those things is ritualistic eating as the clock strikes January.
For years now I’ve scarfed collards and black-eyed peas every new year’s day like a blindly accepting adoptive southerner. My wife eats it and has since we met, so why not right? Well, 10 years of shit luck is why not. It’s not that the past decade hasn’t had its incredible ups, because it has. My marriage and my daughter spring to the top of the list. But I’d be a liar to say that there hasn’t been some deep, dark downs. It’s not something I care to dwell on, but the 2000s have not been the kindest to the people I love the most.
And so, fuck you black eyed peas, I’m starting a new course. One in which I hope to encourage comfort and amplitude in the coming calendar year. One that may well lead me to a yellowed goutish and fattened end. But damnit, that’s what makes it all worth while isn’t it? The immoderate beasts are the most delicious to consume: the hogs that go into making Prosciutto di Parma gorge themselves exclusively on whey from Parmigiano Reggiano; Kobe beef is fed a drunkard’s amount of beer as it gets massaged, flatulating its impacted and well-marbled life away; foie geese literally eat themselves up to the gullet on a daily basis (and don’t give me that animal cruelty shit, these critters live and eat better than most of our nation’s poor). And so, if I were to go in for resolutions, I would have only one: to leave a more delicious corpse.
Because of this I will begin 2013 with a series of modest feasts– the kind of half-assed, half-symbolic, eating-based spirituality that I am prone to when I have a little time on my hands. The first of which will be The Feast of the Wolf, named in honor of my little girl. And feasting will begin tomorrow.
In the interim, I finished 2012 with a reasonably simple meal of chicken thighs with mushroom and cheese polenta. A fine meal, although maybe not a Very Good Year fine meal in the Frank Sinatra sense, which is just how it should be.
Chicken Thighs with Musroom and Cheese Polenta
I love chicken thighs, they taste like a chicken should. And when seasoned simply then cooked well, I might take them over a steak or even a pork chop… maybe. Here, I opt for boneless thighs—I usually always cook bone-in if possible, but I like the utility of not having something to work around, besides, you can save the bones for stock… The salting and racking process dries the skin on the thighs, making it as crispy as possible.
4 skin-on, boneless chicken thighs
1/2lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup stone ground grits or polenta
8 cups of boiling water, divided into 2 pans
¼ cup goat cheese, like chevre
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
A few dried porcini mushrooms
One diced shallot
White wine, Madiera or Marsala
The morning you cook, season the thighs vigorously with salt and pepper on both sides, then arrange them on a rack over a plate and refrigerate for several hours. About 2 hours before you want to eat, bring your pans of water to a boil, add the dried porcinis and then whisk your polenta into one of the pans, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Cook it over medium low heat, adding hot water from the other pan until the polenta has the right texture. This will take at least 90 minutes if you’re using good stuff.
In the mean time heat butter and oil in a cast iron skillet till smoking, add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms till they’re well browned on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
When your polenta is nearly done, add the sautéed mushrooms. Preheat your oven to 425. Heat the cast iron skillet you cooked the mushrooms in till it smokes (it should still have a good bit of oil and butter in the bottom of it). Add the chicken thighs skin side down and leave them for a couple minutes, or until the skin is a very deep golden brown. Turn the thighs over and put the pan in the hot oven for 5-7 minutes, till they come up to temperature.
Remove the thighs from the oven, if the polenta is cooked through remove it from the heat and stir in the goat and Parmigiano cheese. Adjust the seasonings as necessary.
Remove the thighs from the pan, throw in your shallots and sweat them, deglaze the pan with a bit of white wine or madiera and finish with some chicken fat and parsley for a pan sauce.
Serve the polenta in a bowl topped with the thigh and some of the pan sauce. Get ready for the gorging that is to commence.