Blackout Chicken: A Recipe in Three Parts

I decided to try an Israeli recipe to share with you, involving honey mustard and a lot of dried fruit, but our electricity had other plans.

Let me backtrack.

Part One: The Power

The Internet has been spotty since we got here. By spotty, I mean that it inexplicably goes on and off at will, usually in the midst of something really important, like right before loading the climax of an online movie we’re watching, or right in the middle of Skyping my family. (Sorry, Mom.) Also, a few weeks ago, our hot water heater died inexplicably. The electrician’s solution was to wash the solar panel on the roof with a mop. This (surprisingly enough) did not do the trick. Another electrician came by a few days later to gesture at the burnt out control box and say exactly two words to me: “This, garbage.” (This also did not get the hot water back.) He came back a few days later to actually fiddle with the electricity, and since then, blown breakers have become a mundane part of our existence. It is not uncommon for us to be sitting at home and to be very suddenly plunged into darkness.

(But there is hot water. At least we have that now.)

We’ve adjusted to this new reality in the following ways: I can now grope to the breaker panel in the dark with alarming accuracy, find the blown switch and flip it back at a ninja pace. Meanwhile, my husband, the resident physicist, will switch off one or two of the largest appliances that were working when the power blew, and do the math regarding amperes, watts and volts to try and divine why the electricity blew and, also at a ninja’s pace, come up with a new rule for the apartment’s electricity usage before I return the twenty steps from the breaker box. These rules include a variety of odd (to one used to an energy-abundant American lifestyle) but remarkably effective limits, such as no oven preheating while microwave thawing, no turning all coils of the space heater on at once (which, in an apartment with uninsulated walls and no central heat, is devilishly tempting, and perhaps necessary to sustain human life), and not leaving the oven plugged in when not in use.

Part Two: The Oven

And, speaking of the oven, I have no idea how to use it properly. There are two chambers (an upper and lower oven) and two infuriatingly indecipherably marked knobs that control them. See if this makes any sense to you:

The knob on the right, marked with numbers from 1-7, seems to control the temperature. Good luck figuring out which number corresponds to which temperature. Number 2 is marked with an auxiliary note in Hebrew: “שבת,” which I believe refers to the rumored “Shabbat” setting on some appliances that allow them to be used on Shabbat without breaking the Jewish lifestyle rule forbidding the use of machines on the Sabbath. I don’t know exactly what this means, nor do I plan to use this setting. Meanwhile, numbers 6 and 7 are marked with diagrams that appear to picture the two chambers of the oven, but surprisingly enough, do not correspond in any way to these two chambers.

I know this because, while attempting to make Mexican Wedding Balls for the recent Chanukah party, I set the oven on what I thought to be “upper oven only,” which is actually the highest temperature setting available. The cookies, which usually take at least 11 minutes to bake, were done and browning in two minutes flat and were only saved by my constant vigilance.

Meanwhile, the knob on the left is ever-so-helpfully marked (in Latin characters) with M, L, and G. Heaven knows what those mean, but if it helps, turning the knob to the letter L causes the stove to make a fan noise deep inside.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Did I mention that the oven in all likelihood pre-dates the Internet and hours of fruitless Googling has been spent trying to decipher its secrets? I believe the translators of Hammurabi’s stele had an easier job than this.

Also, using the stove in addition to pretty much any other electrical appliance in the house, up to and including any form of artificial light, a heating element, or any appliance that, by its nature, must remain in constant use, such as the refrigerator, causes at least one blown breaker per meal cooked.

So it makes sense that yesterday, halfway through the baking time of this special Israeli meal, when we were inexplicably plunged into darkness, within a few moments I was at the breaker box and my husband was unplugging the oven, the current most likely culprit, and converting amps to volts for everything that had been on before the blow.

And imagine my surprise when, feeling around in the dark, I discovered that not a single one of the breakers was blown…

Part Three: The Recipe

Ingredients:

  • one blackout
  • 6 chicken breasts
  • 2 TBsp honey
  • 2 TBsp fine mustard
  • 1 TBsp mustard seeds
  • 2 gloves garlic, chopped and crushed
  • juice of one freshly squeezed orange, plus its peel, cut into thin strips
  • a good sized pinch of hot red pepper
  • 1 TBsp olive oil
  • 1 bell pepper, cored, deseeded and quartered
  • 1 small apple, cored and cut into thin slices
  • a generous handful of dried apricots
  • a generous handful of dried cranberries
  • odd Israeli oven
  • small flashlight
  • assorted candles and matches
Directions:
  1. Spend an inordinate amount of time chopping and dicing, trying to get everything picture-perfect for the inevitable blog post involving new exploits in Israeli cuisine. (Try to ignore ominous foreshadowing music placed there for the benefit of blog’s readers.)
  2. Rinse chicken and wipe dry.
  3. Combine all remaining ingredients in a large dish. Mix well.
  4. Add chicken, turning in sauce to coat generously.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate in the refrigerator for a full precious hour or more, ignorant of the time-bomb that is the building’s electricity.
  6. While the chicken is marinating, monkey around with the stove and decide that, since the recipe calls for a cooking temperature of 180° C, which is about halfway through the spectrum of usual oven temperatures, to settle on a number 4, about halfway through this particular oven’s spectrum, and hope for the best.
  7. Arrange marinated chicken in a single layer on a baking pan and pour sauce over top.
  8. Place in oven and call Mom on Skype to chat.
  9. Halfway through baking time (around 30 minutes), experience what is thought to be blown breaker. (Can be simulated by switching off oven while leaving dish inside). Skype connection also lost.
  10. Make way to breaker panel, experience surprised reaction to discover breaker is not blown.
  11. Return to kitchen to retrieve small flashlight.
  12. Make way back to breaker panel with small flashlight to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
  13. Hear excited voices in Hebrew in the stairwell.
  14. Open door to discover neighbors engaging in loud Hebrew exclamations, accompanied by excited pantomiming toward their open darkened doors, indicating that they have lost power.
  15. Indicate through similar excited pantomiming that you are experiencing the same problem.
  16. Light a bunch of candles, turn off all now-dark appliances and wait in candlelit stairwell while building super calls electrician.
  17. Listen as building super relays electrician’s message that blackout will last at least 2 hours.
  18. Realize that, since you wasted so much time preparing the meal that is now going cold in the oven, that it is way past dinnertime and you’re starving.
  19. Go out for falafel.
  20. Return 20 minutes later, pleasantly surprised to discover power has returned.
  21. Deliberate for ten minutes over what to do with the chicken in the now-lukewarm oven.
  22. Re-call Mom on Skype to explain situation and ask opinion regarding chicken.
  23. Decide to continue cooking the chicken.
  24. Stop five minutes before chicken is done, cover and place in refrigerator for tomorrow.
  25. At tomorrow’s dinner time, cook the final five minutes.
  26. Enjoy!

(Note: In the interest of food safety, please do not actually attempt this recipe.)

5 Comments

Filed under A New (Complicated) Way to Do Something Simple, What's Cookin'?

5 responses to “Blackout Chicken: A Recipe in Three Parts

  1. Kris

    There’s a little something you might want to invest in called an oven thermometer :)

    Also, I’d like a little more info on how one can use an appliance without breaking the rule about using appliances? Is this something I should ask Rodolfo? Some sort of paradox in physics that doesn’t involve electricity? Are there tiny elves hiding in your oven that fan hot air on the food?

    • Kris

      Also, you didn’t elaborate on how exactly you determined when “5 minutes before done” was. 15 minutes + some subset of 20 minutes ramping back up to proper heat setting + 10 minutes + some arbitrary amount :).

      Did it taste fine? It looks really good. You must have much more superior cooking skills than I’ve ever given you credit for.

      • Jessa

        Kris, one thing I’ve noticed about Jerusalem is that things that are deceptively easy to get in the U.S. are either nowhere to be found or prohibitively expensive here. My mom also recommended an oven thermometer, and if I find one I’ll let you know. :)

        I will do some research into Shabbat-friendly appliances and do a post on it soon.

        Also, if you’d been paying attention, you’d realize I mentioned that the chicken was around half done at the 30 minute mark when the power went out. The recipe calls for an hour at 180 degrees Celsius, but because of the power and the iffy stove, I define “5 minutes to done” as when the chicken is white enough inside to look done, but not quite brown enough outside to look appetizing to a good Southern girl such as myself. :) Probably a bit difficult to the untrained eye, but as I mentioned, you probably shouldn’t be trying it at home by these instructions anyway… But it did turn out DELICIOUS!

  2. that’s one creative stove…I’m quite impressed.

    • I know, it was insane. I’ve never reattempted this recipe, but perhaps I should. I’ve sort of gotten the hang of the stove now, but it still surprises me sometimes. :)

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