Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chicken with Marjoram

I am a sick woman. At least, that's what my husband says, because every time I see a cow I get hungry. A beautiful beast with soft eyes is gazing limpidly at me from a field, chewing the cud. My husband is ruminating on the idyllic pastoral scene, and I'm wondering aloud where I can find a good steak.

Other people understand. I met one such gentleman at Northcote Lake. He was feeding stale organic sourdough to the ducks (this is the inner north, after all), and we had a delightful time debating the merits of Duck a l'Orange, Peking Duck and duck with sour cherry sauce.

The lake at Malmsbury makes me hungry, too. It is populated by a flock of geese, and each time I see them my mind is flooded with an image of a perfectly golden roast goose surrounded by baked apples; my mouth fills with saliva. The day one goosed me, I was particularly tempted.

And now we have chickens. They are beautiful birds; they make me laugh; they have distinct personalities; I like to stroke them... and they are so plump.

I'm like some ravening beast from a cartoon show. Yet I have almost never cooked meat, testament to a long-standing commitment to consume less. I do eat meat when we're out and about, which is rare these days; but I don't cook it at home. We stick to eggs, pulses and fish.

But when we're not eating eggs, I've been wondering about the sustainability of this commitment. Sure, I soak Australian pulses, but when I'm in a rush, which is often, I reach for the cans from Italy. Yet buying canned vegetables from Europe feels environmentally insane – the food miles! – and ethically dubious. Those Albanian field workers aren't treated too well.

On the other hand, the more I read about overfishing and the working conditions of many fishing crews, the less keen I am on fish. Half the time I can't find anything from the sustainable fishing guide at the fish shop; and in any case my kids don't really like fish, except mackerel (unavailable in Australia), salmon (which is usually farmed, pumped full of antibiotics and fed ground up by-catch) and canned tuna (and the sustainable ones give them a rash. What is that about?).

I'm starting to think that eating local chicken might be better.

So last week, in a radical move for our household, I made my first tentative foray into cooking poultry. I bought some local free range drumsticks and roasted them with marjoram and lemons. They came out of the oven burnished gold. The marjoram lent sweetness and interest, and the lemons were lightly caramelized and syrupy.

The drumsticks disappeared quickly, and one child begged for more. She then spent the week telling friends in great detail about the delicious meal I made, and has asked me to cook it again.

Like her, I love to eat meat, but I have to admit that I'm no great evangelist. To me, it's more of a guilty secret because, no matter how thoughtful the farming method or how low the food miles, meat means the death of a sentient being with little or no acknowledgement or gratitude. All I can say is that I suspect a responsibly farmed local chicken is more sustainable than Italian pulses and most fish, it's easy to prepare, and it's tasty; and I can choose to give thanks before I eat.

Chicken with Marjoram

- 5 or 6 chicken drumsticks (they're easy for kids to hold, and amusing to play with)
- a lemon
- a big handful of marjoram
- salt
- olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Wash the marjoram, and check for bugs. I left mine on the stem, but you can pick the leaves off if you wish. Chop the lemons roughly and randomly, into perhaps a half-inch dice.

If necessary, trim the chicken of any dangly bits. Rub with a little salt. Place in a baking dish with the lemons and marjoram. Drizzle with olive oil, and use your hands to combine. Ensure the marjoram has a little oil on it; otherwise it will dry out and burn.

Roast at 200°C for 35 minutes. Turn the drumsticks over, and roast for another 20 minutes at 160°C or until they are golden.

Roasting temperatures from the very useful How to Eat by Nigella Lawson; the food porn photograph of a goose and apples is in her absolutely wonderful book Feast: Food that celebrates life. Photograph shows a piece of chicken which is clearly not a drumstick; sometimes I use drumsticks, other times, every part of a chicken I can get my hands on!

(Local: chicken, marjoram, lemons, olive oil. Not local: salt.)

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