I had first learned of "engagement chicken" from an old coworker of mine. She had been in a relationship with her then-boyfriend for about four years, and she was ready to test out that famous recipe. "You make the chicken and then your boyfriend will propose," she said matter-of-factly, explaining to me how the recipe works. It sounded simple enough. And while I couldn't imagine testing the theory myself (at least not without GHB, a polaroid camera, and the steely will to blackmail my way into my boyfriend's legally binding heart), I was curious.
My old coworker never shared the results of that night, and I eventually lost touch with her. But through ever-trusty Facebook, I soon learned that she and said boyfriend had broken up. So much for engagement chicken. Right?
Well, just a few months later, my newsfeed was flooded with pictures of the former coworker with a new guy all over each other, sharing proclamations of their love and destiny and soulmates and love of their lives and omg we love each other sooooo much and more stuff that makes my cynical heart want to slam itself into my rib cage so that I trip and my glasses come off so I don't have to see that stuff anymore.
Anyway, they're now engaged, and part of me wants to believe in the magic of the engagement chicken. The fact that she made it for someone else is just semantics. Here, I've put together three variations on the engagement chicken recipe for us all to consider.
Engagement Chicken #1
This roasted chicken, perfectly prepared and seasoned with fresh herbs and lemons, will prove to your man that you’re marriage material.
1 roasting chicken
A couple of tablespoons of olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
Sprigs of fresh herbs like rosemary, parsley, and thyme
4 glasses of Chardonnay
A dash of courage
Preheat the oven to 425°.
The heat from the stove will warm your otherwise crisp kitchen. Despite the chill of winter, you left a window open just in case. You’ve never made this recipe before—obviously, since your ring finger is as naked as Oprah’s. But unlike your happily unmarried heroine, you covet tradition. You reek of desperation for it. The air is too thick; you need to clear it out. You open another window. It’s important to be prepared.
Cut one lemon into thin slices. Cut the other lemon in half, and rinse your assortment of fresh herbs. Set aside. Take out your roasting pan, or if you don’t have one, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. You won’t need any of these until later, but it’s best to get them done now. You prefer to prepare everything well in advance. You are in control.
You glance at the clock. He’ll be home in less than three hours. Now is a good time to pour your first glass of Chardonnay. Drink it quickly.
Remove the chicken giblets. You can save them for later to make chicken stock. Or, since you’re always too lazy to make homemade stock, just throw them away. But discarding the chicken’s heart seems inappropriate at a time like this, when you fear he might very well do the same to you.
On second thought, you throw the innards in the freezer. A frozen heart is better than none at all.
Pat the chicken dry, and place it in your roasting pan or lined baking sheet. Two and a half more hours. You down your second glass.
Gently squeeze lemon juice from your halved lemon over your chicken, inside and out. A drop lands on your lip, and you clean it off with your tongue. The pang of tartness spreads throughout your jaw, leaving a bad taste in your mouth. You shake off the bad omen. Maybe it’s good a sign. Sour now, and the sweet will follow. Hopefully. Save the juiced lemon for later.
Drizzle enough olive oil to coat the chicken, and rub the oil all over the skin. Liberally season the skin and inside of the chicken with salt and pepper. You want to make sure there’s enough flavor. You refuse to suggest that there’s any chance of blandness in your futures.
Place the lemon slices, the juiced lemon, and the fresh herbs inside the cavity of the chicken. Drink from your third glass of wine as your mind drifts to the freezing chicken heart. No. You stop. You are in control.
Open the oven door. You feel a much-needed hug of reassurance as the warm draft swirls around your shoulders like a cozy blanket. Place the chicken in the oven, and roast for about an hour and a half.
Time to freshen up. Pick out the pieces of herbs that have littered your hair. Clean under your fingernails. Set the table. Reapply your makeup. Smooth out your dress. You are, ironically enough, a housewife from the ‘50s.
You remove the roasted chicken from the oven, its skin crisped to perfection. You breathe in the exquisite aroma as it fills your body with courage. You just roasted an entire chicken and what the fuck has he ever done? Time to finish that third glass. Fuck it, you down a fourth.
The chicken looks amazing. Not to mention, you’re drunk. He won’t be home for another half hour, so you grab a fork and dig in. You don’t need a knife. Your steely nerves are just right for slicing through meat. This is going to work out after all.
Engagement Chicken #2
Bacon stars in this mouthwatering recipe for roast chicken that will fill you up and make him pop... the question!
1 (5 lb) roasting chicken
Fresh ground pepper
½ lb – 1 lb (a package is usually 1 lb) of bacon
Sprigs of rosemary, sage, and thyme
Bottle of red wine like Pinot Noir or Beaujolais
Preheat your oven.
Feeling good? OK, now preheat the oven to 400°.
Line a baking sheet or two with aluminum foil. If you prefer, you can forgo the foil, but the lining makes cleanup much easier.
First, make sure your roasting chicken is completely hairless so there will be no swallowing of any surprises to ruin the moment.
Now, spread. The bacon, I mean. On your (baking) sheets so that they’re close, but not overlapping. If you wish to down the entire package, you may need two baking sheets to accommodate every slab. Then, insert slowly.
Into the oven.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes.
Your bacon should now be sizzling away, and you should be hearing ecstatic pops from inside the oven. Not so fast. This recipe is for chicken, after all.
Reach into the chicken’s cavity with your hands, feeling for its giblets. The chicken heart and innards should be packaged together for easy handling. Gently remove the innards, the fragile makings of a true delicacy. The good ones know to save the giblets, that with the right seasoning and prep they’re part of a climactic culinary masterpiece.
Too much work. Throw the package away. Maybe next time.
Meanwhile, the bacon has been crisping away. It’s hardened to its most desirable consistency and it’s ready to be released. Open the oven door. Take in that delicious aroma. Remove the bacon from the oven and lay it down on paper towels to soak up any excess grease. Pour the bacon fat into a container. Careful. It’s very wet and hot. Set it aside and let it cool.
Oh, it’s the chicken’s turn again? That’s nice.
Rest the chicken in a roasting pan or lined baking sheet. Slip two fingers under the skin and, with a gentle “come-hither” motion, ease it away from the meat.
The bacon fat should have sufficiently cooled, and now it’s time to get it going again. Rub the bacon fat all over to lubricate the chicken. Don’t be afraid to use your hands to really spread it around.
Now that the chicken is nice and wet, spice things up. Sprinkle the chicken with kosher salt and pepper. Be careful not to go overboard with the salt; the bacon fat already comes with a lot of flavor. Plus, you don’t want to alter your palate so that you’ll always have to rely on a lot of salt, do you? Bacon fat is perfectly good on its own, too. Right? Right?? But salt and pepper really does make the chicken taste better, so use whatever suits your taste. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the sprigs of fresh herbs. Really pack those babies in there.
Time to turn up the heat. Place the chicken in the oven and give it time to roast. It generally takes longer than bacon.
Roast the chicken for about an hour and a half, or until the meat reaches 180°. A good indicator that the chicken is done is when the skin is browned and crispy. Of course, if you need to, you can fake it. Just spread some butter over the skin, and stick it under the broiler for a minute. Your guest will be none the wiser.
Pair with a light and sweet red wine to offset the spice from your love-baking. Prepared just right, this recipe will stir your man to take the plunge. Just make sure to swallow before you say yes.
Engagement Chicken #3
Serve the chicken and propose.
1 roasted chicken
Roasted brussels sprouts
Bottle of Rodney Strong (Russian River Valley) Pinot Noir 2011
Go to your local market and pick up a roasted chicken and a quart of roasted brussels sprouts. Once you’re home, wash your hands. Plate the chicken and brussels sprouts. Pour two glasses of Pinot Noir, hand him a glass when he comes home. “Thanks for picking up dinner,” he says. You sit at the table and eat, exchanging zero words. It’s a comfortable silence. You've lived together for years. You show him the ring. It’s exactly what you want. You know what you want. A City Hall wedding is the most practical option. You decide to make an appointment for next month. You toast. He does the dishes while you get ready for bed. You're both smiling.
Charlene Cheung is a writer and television producer from Los Angeles. You can follow her on Twitter here.