The Zigzagging Adventures of Undercooking Chicken
Someone asked how do you like your chicken? It’s a weird question. However, I’ve heard it more than once, and every now and then, I ask the question, too.
Someone told me, “I like my chicken the way I like my women. And that’s all you’re getting out of me.”
What do you mean that’s all I’m getting from you? That sent my mind spinning, and I asked him follow-up questions to find out what he meant.
Full of growth of hormones.
Beheaded and revolving around a rotisserie.
In power and with equal pay?
In summer dresses and big hats?
I mean, really, the possibilities are endless.
Maybe the question sounds weird because we are not used to people asking how we like our chicken. We are used to people asking how we like our steak.
As if it should be an option.
As if a sushi master would ask you do you want to ruin the belly of this Totoro by burning it to the ground.
Now, Totoro is not a fish, but I got you. It is a fictional character in a popular anime movie. The proper fish name is toro.
Got you again.
Toro is the Japanese word for tuna, and tuna’s belly is actually quite succulent — even more succulent than the word ‘succulent’ feels as it rolls out of your mouth.
It is also a word for ‘lantern.’
But, yeah, the temperature of your steak shouldn’t be an option. The questions should be, “what the hell is good and how does the Chef recommends it to be cooked?”
That’s not the standard question. Instead, we have to sit through countless dinners and pretend to act normal when someone asks the waiter to spoil the cow’s ultimate sacrifice for our exquisite sensory pleasure.
What a shame! That cow died on the butcher’s cross for your sins and guilty pleasures, and then you spit on its memory by asking for it well done.
What is it about steakhouses we love so much?
Maybe our partners don’t let us eat red meats at home, so when we are out on business trips, we take the opportunity to increase our LDL and blood pressure.
Whenever someone you are sitting across at a steakhouse asks for a steak to be cooked well done, you can assume they don’t like sushi either, and if it weren’t because they are adults in a public setting, they would be eating chicken nuggets, mini corn-dogs, and ranch.
I like my steak cooked Philadelphia Style.
I remember the first time I heard about Philadelphia Style; some might recognize it as black-and-blue. I was at Mastro’s Ocean Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, and a waiter explained it to me.
There are four moments in my life I hope I will never forget; the first time I locked eyes with my wife-to-be, the birth of my first daughter, the birth of my second daughter, and the first bite I took of a properly cooked rib-eye Philadelphia style.
It was magical.
The forbidden but pleasurable taste of the salt and smoke of the bark fondling the bloody juices of the steak in ungodly ways.
I converted on the spot. That was my cut; that was how I got it. I remained loyal to it longer than I remained loyal to my catholic roots.
I was always chasing that high I couldn’t capture. Until one day, I took a client out to lunch at a steakhouse in Sacramento. I got a 32 oz bone-in rib-eye Philadelphia style. It came out, and a few bites in, I realized I was chewing on cold fat.
There is a delicate balance between eating, talking, and selling when you are out with a client. Anything can disrupt it.
One of my mentors taught me that if I didn’t get a chance to eat, not to worry; just focus on the conversation and let my clients eat. Then stop at a different restaurant after and get lunch.
That’s what I did at that lunch in Sacramento. The inside of the steak was cold. But I forged on and ate through the fat. I wasn’t worried about my stomach.
I ate a whole pound before putting my fork and knife down in defeat. I had to leave behind the rest of that steak, and the $45 those 16 ozs amounted to instead of letting my intestines transform it into the beautiful work of art my BMs are.
I didn’t want to stop ordering rib-eye but I had to try. I told myself I had the strength to stop. That, “the next time I am at a steakhouse, I will get a petit, I will get a hanger, a new york.” But those were always between 8 and 12 oz, and the rib-eye was always 24 oz or more; the dollar per oz was about the same but more food is more food.
So I always caved in.
The addiction lived strong in me.
I reached my limit at a steakhouse in DC.
I ordered a rib-eye. Again, (sorry to say it one more time, but it is the truth, I am a man of habit) Philadelphia style. This one was slightly different because it was cajun, which just means the rub is cajun.
It was one of those meals with ten people, so conversations were flowing from different angles; I didn’t have much time to explain exactly how I wanted it to the waiter, but I just said, you guessed it, Philadelphia style.
When it came out, the same thing happened. Yeah, there was bark but almost a disappointing bark which you have to try hard to mess it up. It is so easy to get bark right. You just have to sear the salt into the fat.
I love salt.
Here is the list of the top things I love: my wife, my daughters, salt, and my mom — who was a close fourth but still a fourth.
But they messed it up.
Something tasted funny about it. I don’t know; maybe cajun is creole for ass-seasoning.
Then the insides were cold.
Sending food back is a big no-no among some people. It’s the eleventh commandment for some religious people. I don’t care. I’ll do it when I need to do it.
The truth is I don’t mind eating or slurping anyone’s loogies. They probably taste salty, and I love salt, as I mentioned before.
Seriously, I don’t mind eating a loogie as long as the cook gets my order right. Someone trying to spit a loogie in your mouth is a fight. You paying to eat a loogie is a Michelin culinary experience.
What do you think snails and oysters are?
They are the loogies god spat on the 8th day of creation.
So back it went, and it still came out tasting weird.
The problem is that cooking it this way is tough because you need to be able to get the pan extremely hot to get the bark you want in a short period of time while also getting the inside a little warm. I know it. I’ve tried it at home, and the best I can get is rare.
Now, I am a free agent looking for a new cut of steak to eat at steakhouses.
I am in and out of steakhouses for work so often, that when I hear the question, “how do you like your x?” I always think of internal temperature. That’s what I thought people asking “how do you like your chicken?” were referring to.
But there is more to it.
My friend Masih invited me to a barbecue at his house in Del Mar, and while looking over the chicken he was grilling, he asked me, “how do you like yours cooked?”
“What? What do you mean? That’s not a question you ask in this circumstance. I’d like mine without salmonella. Thank you very much.”
That was Masih for you, though. So typical.
I’m not convinced Masih is not a secret agent for some government. He speaks seven languages. He is never too long in any one place. Whenever his phone has a blue bubble, I can assume he is not in a remote and developing country. But the blue bubble is not always available. Most of the time, my messages upload as green bubbles.
I met Masih in college in San Diego.
We were both part of the Speech & Debate team at San Diego Mesa College. But before, we had seen each other around campus. I was a college ambassador for at-risk youth, and he had started a ‘Smiling’ foundation.
That’s right, a ‘Smiling’ foundation. He believed that smiling more would make the world a better place. He was the ideal ambassador for his own foundation because he always sported a big warm, and welcoming smile.
The same smile he would give me whenever I accused him of the foundation being a poorly concocted strategy to meet girls. He always denied it, but he knew all the girls on campus.
There are those people in your life that fly in and out, but you still feel a deep connection to them — your soul siblings. That’s Masih for me.
Never knowing when he will show up.
When he appears is always in the same cryptic way. A text message, the short time window he will be in the Bay, and then asking me to meet him in a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant that is always, of course, the best possible restaurant I have ever been to for that type of food.
We met in a small Japanese restaurant in San Bruno the last time I saw him — not too far away from SFO. He ordered off-menu and all in Japanese. The owners acted like they had known him for a long time.
He told me all about his escapades and how China is the place to be, and he lamented the time he had been spending in Paris because of a girl. When the food came out, there were all cuts of fresh sashimi. I couldn’t recognize any, and he referred to all of them in Japanese which didn’t help me since I don’t know any Japanese.
But that’s not the story I’m trying to tell you.
Masih was the first to ask me, “how do you like your chicken cooked?” in the context of internal temperature.
I didn’t know about my stomach’s salmonella handling prowess at that time, so I just told him, “No, salmonella for me, please.”
But that was back then.
Before I knew anything.
If he asks me again, I would probably tell him, “undercooked and brown,” like me because, like the elders in the village say, “eat who you know.”
I’ll be ready for the next time he shows up.
In the meantime, what cut of meat should I replace rib-eye with?