Every time I cook a whole chicken I am reminded of the time my friends and I stole a featherd fowl.
Before I start, let me preface this story by saying that I do not agree with stealing; however, desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures.
It was the summer of 1999. I was 16 years old at the time, and my parents gave me permission to spend a week at their lake cabin at Mujdeni with my closest friends Ovi and Sergiu, my high-school sweetheart Alina, her little sister Pupi, and Tommy, our family dog. Even though the cabin had no electricity, running water, or a proper bathroom, we loved it there. We sunbathed and swam during the day, played soccer and volleyball in the evening, and played cards and board games by candlelight at night.
When my parents gave me the green light, our first step was to come up with a budget and shopping list. We were planning to party, so we allocated a minimum amount for food, so we could buy more booze and cigarettes.
For the first few days we lived like kings. We ate four or five meals the first day, and we finished all the perishable food including the meat, cheese, and eggs. We had to - we didn’t have a refrigerator. The second day we ate like gluttons as well and polished off all the canned food, dried sausages, and root vegetables. By the third day, things got a bit tougher. We feasted on the items that were left: bread, dried sausage, bacon, fruit preserves and a few potatoes. We weren’t all that worried, because we still had some cash and the closest village was only a half hour walk from the cabin. The village had a decent supply store where we could buy booze and cigarettes if we wanted to.
The fourth day came, and we woke up starving. We decided that it was indeed time for us to make a trip to the village to buy some essentials. As we were getting ready to leave, we noticed a strange look on Sergiu’s face. Sergiu was the oldest and wisest of the bunch, and he was responsible for keeping up with our money and making sure we didn’t spend it all on booze and cigarettes. Unfortunately, the night before, Sergiu drank too much wine and jumped in the lake with all our money in one of his pockets and the last pack of cigarettes in the other. He didn’t remember losing our money until that moment, but his face said it all. It was the face of oh-shit-I-lost-all-our-money.
At that moment, we realized we were screwed. We were left with literally nothing to eat, and our phones were dead. We ransacked the pantry and found salt, pepper, vinegar, and mustard. I wasn’t that much of a kitchen wizard at the time, but even I knew that condiments weren’t going to help us solve our predicament.
So we started planning again: Alina, Pupi, and I would go mushroom hunting in the forest, while Ovi and Sergiu would go fishing. I had gone mushroom-hunting with my parents before, so I was confident about my skills. We were delusional and blinded by hunger, so we overlooked the two major flaws in our master plan: 1) It hadn’t rained in weeks, and 2) No one had ever caught a decent-sized fish in the seven years we had the cabin.
After hours of fruitless hunting and fishing, we admitted defeat. We were getting really hungry. Pupi started crying from hunger, and the boys contemplated frying earthworms. But even the earthworm plan was flawed. Since it had been weeks since the last rain, we would have to dig really deep to find them.
And that’s when we came up with another brilliant idea: going to the nearby village to find food. This village stretched along a creek and had a nearby meadow where peasants grew crops. We could scavenge for corn, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and even pumpkins if we were lucky. All of those choices sounded better than earthworms!
We decided to leave the girls at the cabin since this was a risky operation. We knew we’d probably get beaten up if we were caught stealing from the locals, but we were too hungry to think rationally. We took Tommy with us as well -- after all, he was a male and, while dumb, he was a fearless little Cocker Spaniel.
On our way to the meadow, we made plans: how we would operate, what we would say if we were caught, and which way we would run if necessary. When we got to the gardens, we realized that corn season was over and potato season was still months away. We found some greens that looked like salad and tossed them in our bags. We also found a few onions and began feeling optimistic. But then nothing: no tomatoes, no peppers, no beans, no nothing. Desperation took hold, and after a quick discussion, we decided to go big: if we saw a chicken, piglets, or even a baby lamb, we would go for the kill. After all, we had to eat!
As we walked up the creek, we saw a house in the distance. It seemed like the house wasn’t fenced up, which was a good sign, we thought. We silently crept towards the house with every hair on our bodies standing on end. As we neared, we heard the beautiful, sweet sound of chickens scratching the earth for their noon meal.
But how would we catch one without being caught ourselves? We were only 150 feet away, and the cabin’s open back door warned us of imminent danger. Then I remembered that Tommy was a seasoned chicken assassin. He may have technically been an apartment dog, but Tommy’s hunting instincts were on point. He had killed my grandpa Bunu’s chickens more than once when he had the opportunity. It was time for Tommy to prove his worth as a hunting dog.
“Go get ’em!” I commanded Tommy, and low and behold, he went straight for the chickens and straight for the kill.
Our hearts started racing as the chickens began squawking. Feathers were flying everywhere. One poor chicken got cornered, the rest ran back into the coop. In an ideal world, Tommy would kill the chicken and bring it to us. But this wasn’t an ideal world, and Tommy’s raw hunting skills weren’t as refined as I’d hoped. Tommy did indeed kill a chicken, but then he left it 60 freaking feet from the house.
What should we do? Who was going to pick up the chicken? I thought Sergiu should do it, since he lost our money in the first place. We were pointing at each other and exchanging glances, until I got tired of the situation and decided that I would retrieve the chicken. As I crept from the tall grass towards the backyard of the house, a toddler walked out and stared at me. I looked away, but somehow still met his gaze. I kept walking towards the still-writhing chicken in a very unnatural way. I glanced up, and the little boy waved a chubby hand at me. I smiled and waved back, and then he walked back inside.
Oh no! I panicked, grabbed the chicken, and raced towards the creek. My heart was pounding in my chest, but for some reason, I started laughing. Ovi, Sergiu, and Tommy all ran with me, and we didn’t look back. We ran with our makeshift dinner for 15 minutes before reaching the outskirts of the village, and in another 15 minutes, we were almost back to our cabin. We were proud! We were hunters! We provided food!
As we approached the cabin, I saw a blonde lady. Were the locals waiting for us? But then I heard Alina’s mother’s familiar voice and a wave of relief swept through me. She was the blonde lady! She had tried to call us and was concerned that our phones were off, so she decided to stop by the cabin with food supplies, including bread, meat, veggies, and a freshly baked cake.
Alina’s mom commented on the bags of veggies, but she didn’t seem to notice the slaughtered chicken I had tucked under my t-shirt. We ate dinner and eventually confessed our crime. Alina’s mom chuckled, jokingly chided us, and then plucked and cleaned the bird. We roasted that scrawny motherfucker, and no chicken since has ever tasted so good.
ROASTED MASON JAR CHICKEN
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 90 minutes
Inactive time: 3 hours
- ½ Tbsp. sweet paprika
- ½ Tbsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 whole chicken (4-5 lbs.)
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 can lager beer (12 oz.)
- ¼ cup water
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- ½ lemon, sliced
- 2 dried bay leaves
- In a medium bowl, combine dry rub ingredients and mix well.
- Remove the neck and giblets from the chicken’s cavity and discard.
- Rinse inside and outside of the chicken and remove excess fat and pin feathers. Pat chicken dry with paper towel.
- Rub chicken with olive oil. Sprinkle the chicken with half of the seasoning, and rub the outside until evenly coated.
- Put the chicken in a large bowl, and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 2-3 hours, or (preferably overnight).
- Preheat oven to 375F (190C) degrees.
- Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and sprinkle with the remainder of the seasoning.
- Pour beer and water in a 16 oz. mason jar then add the thyme, garlic, lemon, and bay leaves.
- Place the chicken on the mason jar by grabbing a chicken leg in each hand and plunking its cavity over the jar.
- Place the jar with the chicken on a deep dripping pan. Fill up pan with half an inch of water.
- Place chicken on the lowest rack in the oven and roast for 1 ¼ hours (75 minutes).
- Increase the temp to 425F (220C) and roast for 15 more minutes until the skin becomes golden brown. Check the inside temperature at the thickest point of the breast to make sure it’s over 165F.
- Remove roasted chicken from the oven, wrap it in aluminum foil, and let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
- Carve chicken, sprinkle with coarse sea salt, and serve with grilled vegetables.
- After handling chicken make sure you wash your hands with soap to avoid cross-contamination. Also, disinfect work station with kitchen disinfectant.
- Handle the roasted chicken with a lot of care because it will be so tender that the meat will be falling off the bones.