I touched a chicken head today. And I didn’t like it.
On Thursday I stocked up on groceries for the long weekend, following Dan’s advice that everything would be closed on Easter Sunday and Monday. Maybe even Saturday. (You have to hand it to the Italians, they’ve got a knack for stretching out a holiday. Here in Rome, Paul will have a four-day weekend in honor of the occasion.) Strolling through the aisles, the usual suspects made their way into my cart: pasta, fruit, milk. When I saw the fresh chickens on special, I thought of a delicious dinner ahead, roasted chicken. Plus the leftovers: sandwiches and maybe a cold chicken salad with ginger dressing. So I put the bird–shrink-wrapped and lying on a bed of styrofoam, just as it would be in the US–in with the other fixins.
Now for a recipe. I love the Food Network, I just do. Since we arrived in Italy I’ve been trying to branch out but on this day, I settled on a Giada De Laurentiis recipe for Garlic and Citrus Chicken. She’s Italian, she’s got a show or two on the blessed network and Paul loves garlic. Perfect. I began slicing lemons, mincing garlic and finally unwrapping the roasting pan that Paul and I received as a wedding gift from friends Marie and Andrea (thanks again!)
Now every cook knows that you have to be careful with raw poultry. Don’t touch it, then handle other raw foods. Avoid dripping juices all over the counter. And above all, wash your hands before and after touching the dirty little beast. With these safety precautions in mind, I sliced open the cellophane. Lifting up the bird, I started to rinse it clean when I felt something underneath that I expected to be the neck and giblets. I was half right.
With my hand firmly grasping the mystery part (why so firm I’ll never know, but deeply regret), I flipped the bird over to find that I was indeed holding the neck…which was still attached to the head.
Yes, a dead chicken head.
With a beak.
And that little red wobbly thing.
In my hand.
As I let out a horrified gasp, another surprise: the feet were also included. I screamed and dropped the chicken.
Drawing a ragged breath I called for help, “Paul! I need you.” As I explained the situation, he chuckled but dutifully removed the offending parts from the carcass. “It’s ready now,” he said as I cowered from the comfort of the living room. “Ok, but where is the head?,” I asked. “And the feet?” He’d put them safely in a plastic bag, with a paper towel on top so as to spare me from any further accidental exposure.
I know, it sounds pathetic but the combination of carnage, and my surprise contact with it, just proved too much. Even for someone who grew up on a farm as I did. But in my defense, we didn’t kill chickens at our little place. We collected their eggs. And actually we didn’t butcher anything. The good people from Willis Brothers came every spring to take care of that year’s pig and cow; butchering the entire animal before wrapping and labeling specific cuts of meat to keep in our locker, at their store. All I saw was a wax paper package with a sticker on it. And there certainly weren’t any chickens involved. That would be gross.