The knife shriek shriek shrieks against the rod. Fluorescent light, bouncing, highlights the grain, smearing brightness on the white subway tiles. We are not in a subway. You must have realized that. But the subway tiles are the spotless whiteness of chic. If you know about these things, then you know that too.
The knife. The knife sharp and inviting. Its edge poignant, its feel, heavy in hand. Japanese characters on its side, a mark left by something even sharper.
She has a heavy breast, thick thighs that once pulsed beneath silken feathers. Now still white as snow in a forest. White as the subway tiles. White as the blank page. Docile.
Docile. Subdued. These are adequate words for her and that is all she needs. They will do.
No blood. Did you expect it? You might have. Like the feathers, the gizzards, the head, the blood is absent. The knife eases through the skin, down through the wing, to the bone. It is met with only flesh, sinew, joints.
Ah, but that! That you say, that is blood! That red. There, at the joint. No, it is not blood. It is hemoglobin.
That red, red, red blood is gone, gone, gone.
Night after night. Hen after hen. One’s breast is a little plumper. One’s thigh leaner. One’s skin thicker. One farm’s product skews gamier. One farm skews juicier.
But mostly the same. The differences too small to make them more than just hens.
In the pot, on the lips, you couldn’t say who was who.
Hen. Hen. Hen. Hen. Ad infinitum.
Into the pot: breast, thigh, wing. Feet. Feet for they are good for thickening, acting like gelatin and reducing the need for reducing. The wings, high in fat and bone. The rest for flavor. The thing we chase.
Carrot. Parsnip. Onion. No potato because potatoes make stock cloudy. You don’t want that. Maybe at home, but not here.
A sprig of thyme, light and reedy. Water. Cup after cup, covering all the parts. Submerged.
The lid snaps on. As the heat rises, so does the pressure and the handle locks into place. This is not your grandmother’s pressure cooker. No chi chi chi of the valve. But really, what do you remember of your Grandmother’s pressure cooker? Can you now hear the chi chi chi in your own head?
This is German-made. Efficient. Precise.
The rubber gasket, light blue like the sky of a dream, the sky in a child’s coloring book, ensures a hermetic seal. A rubber connector between lid and pot. Steam forces up the teeny prick of a valve, blocking the steam’s escape route. Run, steam. Run. Run to be a cloud. No, of course, it cannot.
The valve maintains constant pressure. Fifteen PSI.
What does it feel like? You don’t want to think about it. Not really.
Under pressure, the boiling point of the water rises, jogging briskly past 212 degrees Fahrenheit. It is ruthless, effective, extracting flavor from the meat, imbuing the liquid with notes of the flesh.
Stock in an hour instead of eight.
Water, running from the faucet over the edge of the lid. The valve begins to relax. The handle loosens its hold.
The hen dismissed. Only her essence, the mere idea of her, remains.
Mis en place
A spoon to the lips, three grains of salt, she tastes good. This liquid a perfect, quiet canvas for the rest of the course.
Astringent onions (don’t let them see you cry), plus divine celery and carrots to complete the trinity.
Dark mushrooms, the earth’s gift of decay. Unctuous lardons. Garlic forced through a press.
And now, here, a bottle of Pinot Noir. Burgundian, not Californian. And rooster. The cock, the king, the pimp.
Twin stars of the show.
The hen, a fading memory on the lips, but essential for bolstering flavor later on.
Judy T. Oldfield’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Portland Review, Suffragette City, JMWW, Gravel, and many others. She grew up in the Metro Detroit area and earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree from Western Michigan University in English and Comparative Religion. Since then, she has lived in Seattle, where she is engaged in an ongoing struggle with the invasive blackberries in her backyard. You can find her on Twitter at @J_T_Oldfield.