I fancy myself today to be a decent cook albeit a bit out of practice of late. However, that was not always the case and in fact, until I was at University, I had never really cooked an entire, edible meal. I stress both words “entire” and “edible”. This was despite the fact that I had always enjoyed food and therefore I think not surprisingly, was always interested in learning to master the culinary skills in the kitchen.
As even the best of us blame our parents for something, my culinary aspirations was actively thwarted by my mother who felt strongly in the traditionalist conservative maxim that boys should not be in the kitchen. In this she was doubly frustrated by the fact that my older sister showed very little inclination to be found in the kitchen and to learn the recipes pass down from mother to daughter for generations.
I was finally rescued from the wilderness of ‘101 Ways to Cook an Egg for Idiots” by of all people, an impish Irishman who answers to the name of Collum. It was Collum who taught me how to cut and prepare vegetables and meat and how to mix the spices for a nice curry. As curry is so much part of Malaysian life and culture, it is embarrassing that I had to learn it from a “Kwai Lo”. Collum was also a bit of a practical joker which made life a little difficult while understudying his cooking. There was a time when he passed a red-hot bird’s eye chili pepper to an unsuspecting victim as an extremely sweet Chinese Dwarf Carrot, ideal for munching on while dinner was still cooking. I have long since realized that I can take out the Guinness component from most of Collum’s recipes.
I digress as usual. Today, I wanted to relate three stories of culinary shame from my rich history of disasters. They all relate to poultry and poultry products which is why even today, I have a preference for anything other than that meat group.
The Egg Bomb. My sister-in-law was kind enough to teach me how to make a three minute egg and a hard boiled egg. If successful, I was to progress to the “egg sandwich”. She had such high hopes. Well, I thought I did it very well. In fact, I was offering to boil eggs for everyone and at all times. Alas, it was pride before the fall. How could I possibly mess this up? I chose to take an ambitious order of almost a dozen hard-boiled eggs. The occasion was the live telecast of the World Cup finals (soccer, that is). Family and friends were gathered around the television and hungry. At halftime, I promptly offered to make the eggs, ran to the kitchen, got a big pot of water boiling before adding the eggs. As there were so many eggs, the pot was quite a big one. Distracted by the restart of the game and a period of exciting soccer, I completely forgot about the boiling pot. All of a sudden there was a loud explosion from the kitchen. Upon investigation, we learned that I had let the water boil off completely and had charred the eggs until they were hard as stone and everything just flew off the stove. I had to clean up the mess of burnt egg fragments and a chipped tile where the heavy pan had hit the floor. Oh, yes, I also missed the game winning goal.
The Delicious Marinade. In our early teens, a group of guys with high hormonal levels plotted a way to meet girls. Someone suggested a dance party. Someone offered his home – parents were away. Another suggested to save money, we could cook the food ourselves. It seemed like a great idea despite none of us having done it before. Someone’s dad could supply frozen chicken at very low prices. Another knew where we could get a recipe for roast chicken. He said he had seen his aunt do it a number of times and repeated her gems of wisdom, “The secret’s all in the marinade.” and he had the marinade recipe. Just marinade, place in the oven and after one hour, roast chicken perfection. We loved it when a plan came together.
Oh, the memory still brings tears to the eyes. On the day of the party, the cooking team met at noon and planned the strategy but it all went wrong. The chicken arrived frozen solid and we had to try to thaw them in warm water but we never really did. This shortened the time in the wonderful marinade (which I was in charge of making) and lengthened the time needed in the oven to cook. We were running out of time. Then there was the question about all this fat and grease that was dripping off the chicken as it roasted and onto the bottom of the oven and out on to the floor. The recipe book made no mention of this!!!!! By the time we figured that there was a grease pan we could use, the entire kitchen and most of us were well oiled. Oh, and the cleaning up afterwards. Sob.
Three girls showed up for our great dance party surrounded by twenty guys. The decoration and music team held the girls attention while the cooking detailed drowned their sorrows in punch and tried not to smell of chicken fat. As for the food, everyone politely said that the meat was tough as rubber but the marinade was very nice and so the party fizzled out with people sucking on their chickens.
Chicken with Extras. Having erased the previous memory for the sake of sanity, I happily ended up on the cooking team at University in London for the Department Christmas Dinner and Dance. Once again I was facing my nemesis, chicken. However, things did not seem to go to badly. We had at least one experienced female in the team. She did all the recipes and did all the shopping and told us precisely what to do and when. It was a snap. Her team got the chicken from the butchers, gave me and my team of four final instructions and then left to supervise the salad team and the dessert team. Again, the chickens were not cooking fast enough on account of their size but we applied our superior minds and came out with a relay system where we microwaved the chickens first for half an hour before crisping them in the oven. This seemed to go quite well. We were about half way completed when our supervisor returned. She seemed pleased with our efforts but before leaving she asked what we had done with the spare parts. “Hmmmm? “ we asked. “Spare parts. Gizzards and stuff.” She answered.
We then learnt that it was the practice of butchers in England to place these extras into a small plastic bag and to stuff it inside the chicken. Sure enough a close examination of our bronzed birds revealed melted, bubbly plastic inside …..and there was the smell of burnt plastic. There was a long moment silence. We then cleaned the chicken and removed the offensive parts, washed them in water and re-heated them in the oven. We then swore a pact of silence. As I share this now, I feel that the time limitations on that is long over. I never eat much chicken normally anyway, so nobody really wondered why I stayed away from the chicken at the Dinner and Dance.