My middle daughter called a few days ago to ask why her chicken and rice didn’t taste like my chicken and rice. I think that’s what she wanted, but I wasn’t sure because she stopped every two or three words to yell at her kids. I’d told her how to make this old-fashioned dish a month earlier, but I wasn’t sure she got it because I had to stop every two or three words while she yelled at her kids. The problem is there’s not a recipe for the thing. I know how my grandma made it: dump a whole cut-up chicken, a little salt and pepper, the right amount of rice, and the right amount of water all together in a big pot and cook it until it’s done.
My grandma’s scrumptious dish was marred only by ubiquitous bones and skin and odd little gristly things that separated themselves from the meat during the cooking process. You just shut up and ate around the nasty stuff in the old days. But now we’re all spoiled so I’ve developed a more refined process: boil chicken breasts, use the broth to cook the rice, add chunks of deboned chicken back to the rice along with enough salt and pepper to make it taste right, more broth to make it juicy, and some mushrooms and parsley to dress it up. Honestly, that’s the best I could do, and that’s what I told my daughter. That’s not what she wanted to hear. She wanted a recipe, right down to the pounds, cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons of it, and there’s no way I could give that to her. My grandma didn’t give it to me, and I figured it out. Couldn’t she?
Apparently not. The next day’s call was an exercise in exasperation for both of us. It started out with an accusation that I had left something out of the non-recipe I’d given her and ended up with her description of how her husband had taken one look at what she’d made and said, “That’s what we’re going to eat?” Next she asked why I put it in a 9 x 13 pan, which left me totally discombobulated until I remembered that she’d had frozen leftovers of what her daddy and I had eaten a couple of weeks previously. To her credit, she seemed familiar with the frozen leftovers concept. I asked my own share of questions: Did she use skin-on, bone-in chicken, or the prissy stuff that doesn’t make good broth? Did she use good rice or nasty minute rice, or even worse, the boil-in-the-bag stuff? Did she use mushrooms or mushroom soup? Salt? Pepper? Parsley? Or did she throw in oregano by mistake? She interrogated me on the precise amount of broth she should have added back to the rice and chicken, which led to a separate conversation on the exact delineation between juicy and soupy. I finally told her to send me a picture of it and I’d examine it, but she was yelling at her kids and I don’t think she heard me because I never got a picture.
Every Thanksgiving this same girl vows to learn how I make cornbread dressing. She becomes a little less interested when I mention I get up at the crack of dawn to get it started. Next time I’m booting her out of bed to take active part (and notes) in the process. You see, I don’t have a recipe for it either.