On Cooking


Sometime in the region of 1995 or so, give or take a year, myself and my friend Hoover decided to get a place together. It wasn't much. Neither were our salaries, on the odd occasion that we actually managed to get our acts together long enough to earn one. Within a week of moving in, and now getting hungry and increasingly unwilling to keep hitting our folks up for food, we knew that we had to attempt cooking. We knew whiskey. We didn't know cooking. This was going to be a whole new kettle of fish.
In retrospect, the first meal should have set the scene, should have given us an indication that cooking was not for us and was best avoided. We'd gone out to do a little shopping, and included in that shopping was a pack of twenty-four uncooked mini-pies. You know the kind: you get your chicken, your mince, your spinach and feta, and whatever else. We also bought a baking tray, because this sounded smart and oh-so cosmopolitan, and a tin of Spray and Cook. We'd both seen our mums using this. It seemed important.
That evening, with our baking tray Spray and Cook'd, the pies neatly laid out, and our tiny little itsy-bitsy gas oven heated to the prerequisite 220 degrees, we were ready. Pies awaited. Oh, the excitement!  Hoover opened the oven door while I grabbed the pie-laden baking tray.
Clonk. No, didn't fit in that way. I turned it sidewise.
Clonk. Didn't fit that way either. The door of the aforementioned itsy-bitsy gas oven was just too small.
So I did what any hot-blooded male hailing from the Deep South of Jo-burg would've done: I set the tray on the floor and, using my feet to brace it and some muscle power, I bent the baking tray 90 degrees from the middle. Back to the oven. Open the door. Attempt insertion.
Nothing. No go.
Luckily, we had braai tongs (barbeque tongs for my non-SA readers) on hand, and very quickly formulated a rather clever and, if I may say so, inspired fix. We rolled up our sleeves and, with pies held in tongs, balanced the pies on the little grid-thing over the hell-hot gas fires below. All twenty-four pies neatly balanced, we closed the door, ready to pour a very well-deserved congratulatory whiskey.
We should have used foil or suchlike on the little grid-thing.
We turned towards each other at the sound of muted thuds coming from the oven. Turned to look at the oven. Carefully, Hoover opened the door. Inside that stupid oven, and melting all over the bottom in the hot gas flames, were the pies, having fallen off of the little grid-thing.
It took a week or so to clean the melted pastry from the bottom of the oven.
Now, the second attempt was even more inspired and, I think, truly a great idea. After a week of once again hitting our parents up for food, we bought ourselves a full chicken, some rice and some peas. Simple-stupid. What could possibly go wrong? We once again pre-heated the oven to the required temperature, and the chicken was freshly basted. This time we had a baking tray that would fit, having measured up the oven door opening and then measured up a bunch of baking trays at the store. It was looking glorious, and beautiful, and heavenly; oh, the possibilities of that chicken that evening. Hoover was on the phone to his mom, she explaining the cooking of the peas; I was on the phone to my mom, she in turn explaining the cooking of the rice. No worries. It was a go. Timing was great.
We took the chicken out of the oven, golden-brown and steaming. Rice dished up on our plates, peas dished up, salt and pepper set aside for some light seasoning. I took our newly-acquired carving knife and cut into the chicken. It had a beautiful, crisp exterior...but raw from about a centimetre in.  Okay, this ought not to be a problem.  The oven was still hot, so it was an easy business to fire it up and shove the chicken back in.
We gave it another ten minutes.
The chicken came back out. The golden sheen of the crisp skin was looking a little less golden, and a little less sheeny. The chicken had cooked perhaps another two centimetres back in.
We put the chicken back into the oven. Waited for a while. Ate the rice and peas. Waited some more.
When the chicken eventually came out, it was brown and wrinkly. It had cooked perhaps another two centimetres in. What was cooked was not edible, hard, devoid of any moisture whatsoever. We threw away the chicken, and popped up to Arturo's for pizza.
No one said that we should defrost the chicken first.

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