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It is an unsatisfactory world, as the Mazés like to say. And as I sit here on my couch trying to not be at work anymore, which is right over there at the kitchen table, where the article draft I’m writing lies unfinished, where the other article I wrote that’s been gathering dust with the publication for 7 months continues to malinger, where I’m lucky to be working at all but am feeling prickly about today, I reflect on this concept. I sip this ill-advised glass of Tuesday night gin and text complaints to my best friend and stew about my dumb career aspirations and all the really terrible things that are happening beyond my kitchen table, and I agree. It is an unsatisfactory world.
This time of year especially, when “practicing gratitude” reaches fever pitch, I find myself digging into crab. Not the delicious sea meat I eat rarely these days because there’s only one good place for crab in town and he only makes those crab cakes a couple times a year. I’m talking about the holidays. I’m talking about the seething kind of mood that brews up inside of me when commercialism meets gratitude meets family values and they all have a big syrupy orgy that leaves sticky trails over everything that I do, in fact, love and cherish.
Maybe I’m talking being a contrary griping privileged piece of shit, but come on, isn’t it all a bit much? Don’t you find it cloying and irritating and flabby too? The first thing I think is that we just don’t have the right words to express these things, that we rely on stock phrases and memes and ads for candles because we don’t know how to describe the profound love we have for our lives, for one another (and of course we don’t really love one another, do we, as we have daily proof). We shouldn’t have to be clever, I know, and gratitude doesn’t have to be entertaining or witty, but Jesus, the tools available to us collectively are pretty flimsy.
But that’s not it, not entirely. It’s that everyone’s doing it all at once. It’s that we HAVE to, and it has to happen now, between November 20th and December 24th. And if we can express our gratitude, ugh, that overused word, by BUYING things, well, then we’re really winning. Well done us.
So, I promise two things: 1) I will quit complaining about this and 2) I will not use the words gratitude, community, communion, or blessing until this season, or at least this poisonous mood, is over and done with. Then I’ll go back to being the silly sentimental old fool that I am, the tender-hearted softie. But right now it’s crab season and I’m digging in.
You too can embrace your inner crab, and I encourage to do so. Let it blanket you, release you to be pissed about everything—anything—whatever’s getting your goat or biting your ass at the moment. There’s the tragedy that is humanity at large, of course, but don’t limit yourself. Don’t forget to turn your eye of Mordor closer to home.
Too broke to buy Christmas presents? Fuck it. Tiny Tim would have been happy with an orange, and you can tell your kids I said so.
Hate your family? Fuck them too. Don’t visit for Hanukkah this year. Tell them you broke your leg. Tell them you have COVID! That’s a get-out-of-jail-free card right there.
Hate your job? Fuck them too, although if your not rich you’re pretty much stuck there, and I stand with you, passing you a joint and a nip from this flask while we plot the demise of your inept boss and that useless coworker whose work you always end up doing.
Hate yourself? Friend, I’ve been there, but think on this. They say that comparison is the theif of joy, but look at all those assholes out there. So. Many. You’re almost certainly better than them, and you can cling to that until you come back around to loving yourself, which you should, because we’re all sort of assholes, and we all deserve love.
I could go on. The holidays can suck it, and as for those giant holiday turkeys that are impossible to cook and rarely nice to eat, fuck them too. (The exception is my brother-in-law-to-be’s turkey, which is perfectly, deliciously moist every time and ample enough to feed his large family. But since he’s mastered that technique and I have only to show up and eat, I am happy to leave that skill a complete mystery in his capable hands).
At our place, where there are only four of us most years, we ate chicken legs for Thanksgiving (a holiday that can definitely go fuck itself, but still we gather), and it was one of the best things we’ve ever done. No trying to find a trash can big enough to brine a turkey in, no worrying about white meat and dark meat cooking at the same time, no depressing mountain of leftovers you’re meant to wrangle into a goddamn sandwich (I swear if I see one more Thanksgiving sandwich recipe…). Chicken legs are nigh impossible to fuck up, they’re essentially finger food, easy to scale up or down, and you can flavor them a million different ways. What makes these particular legs special is that they’re seasoned with baking powder, a technique I learned from Serious Eats which makes the skin crispy and keeps the meat moist.
My partner and I whip this recipe up year-round, so you don’t have to wait for this beknighted time of year to throw a few legs in the oven and call it dinner. When we’re in this heightened state of whatever this is—CRABITUDE—a recipe that is both easy and tasty is manna straight from heaven. And while this one is best if you prep the meat a day ahead, it’s also great if you’re starting two hours before dinner, so don’t let your lack of foresight or giving-a-shit deter you. You can do this, and it might briefly make you forget why everything is stupid. And also dumb.
I love you. Now fuck off.
Crispy Chicken Legs
What separates these legs from your average oven chicken is a pre-seasoning step involving baking powder, which makes the skin dry out and crisp in the oven and even burnishes the bits of the leg that aren’t covered in skin, a frequent occurrence when you buy a pack of legs from the store. You can read all about the science of this tecnhnique here, because that’s where I learned about it and I’m not trying to pretend I’m a scientific cook.
For the crispiest, bronziest legs, you’ll want to season them the day before you plan to bake them, but don’t let that discourage you from making this recipe on a busy weeknight. Most of the time, my partner and I make these legs on a whim day-of, and they always turn out delicious. They take a little time to slow cook in the oven, but it’s a mostly hands-off process that results in the tenderest, juiciest, fall-apart-iest legs. When we’re not preparing an elaborate feast, we usually serve these legs with corn on the cob and call it dinner. Actually, we call it Fogcorn Leghorn.
p.s. This recipe works really well with chicken wings too, just lop about 15 minutes off the total cooking time et voilà.
1 tsp baking powder
1 T kosher salt (or whatever you’ve got)
1 tsp fresh black pepper
seasoning and herbs (see tips below)
1 lb. chicken legs
3 T butter, optional for post-bake basting
- Place a metal cooling rack on top of a sheetpan. Be sure your rack isn’t coated with something that might melt in the oven. Metal only!
- In a large bowl, combine the baking powder, salt, and seasonings. Add chicken to bowl and toss to coat, being sure to pull back the skin and tuck some of the seasoning between the meat and the skin.
- Place legs on the rack (on the sheetpan), and place the whole thing in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
- Preheat oven to 275°F.
- Place chicken in oven and bake for 30 minutes.
- Turn heat up to 500°F (leave the legs in the oven while it heats up) and bake for 20 minutes.
- Use tongs to flip the legs, bake for another 20 minutes or until the legs are bronze and cripsy and the internal temperature reads 165°F (if you don’t have a thermometer, don’t worry, they’ll be done).
- Remove the legs from the oven, baste if you like, and serve!
The sky’s the limit here, but below are a few seasonings I’ve tried and loved.
- Holiday seasoning: Add roughly 2 tsp each of chopped thyme, sage, and rosemary (or any herbs you like) to the baking powder-salt mixture and use another 1 tsp of each stirred into 3 T of melted butter for basting before serving.
- Garlic lovers: Add 1 tsp garlic powder to the baking powder-salt mixture. Go all out by sautéeing (in a small saucepan) 2 chopped garlic cloves in 3 T butter for a few minutes and using that mixture to baste your legs before serving.
- Buffalo: Bake the chicken with the basic baking-powder salt mixture as described in the recipe, then baste or toss the legs in buffalo sauce before serving.