If there was one thing I could count on as a kid, it was that I would be fed chicken on Sundays. Slow roasted, whole chicken slathered in margarine and liberally sprinkled with iodized salt. I don’t fault my mother for her style of preparation– butter was bad for you in the 70s, we’d never heard of Kosher salt because we were Catholics and sea salt was merely something to be washed off of one’s self before leaving the beach.
The accoutrements of Sunday dinner were always the same: severed chunks of Russet potatoes which roasted alongside the bird, yellow corn liberated from a can, iceberg lettuce salad tarted up with Good Seasons® Salad Dressing and croutons furnished by Marie Callender, and all washed down with a glass of sweet acidolphilus milk to combat canker sores. It was my second-favorite meal of the week.
My mother, brother, sister, and I would sit down to dinner and pause to say Grace. If it were my turn to perform the blessing, I found it easier to recite if I rushed through the words and clenched my buttock muscles into a subtle bounce on all the odd syllables.
Blessus our Lord/
For the-ese thy gifts/
From thy bounty through Chri-ist our Lo-ord/
Because dinner is all about rhythm.
And we all had our own distinct versions of dining rhythm. My sister would pick at her food, performing sharp, staccato jabs at the odd potato or crouton and stare at our brother, whose own movements were decidedly grave as he set to work keeping each edible component on his plate isolated from the other, consuming them one by one in a performance so adagissimo, the chicken on his plate would have died of old age, had it not been sacrificed for our dinner.
My own eating style could best be described as an ongoing experiment in polytonality. I’d lift my salad bowl and dump its contents into the center of my plate; pile on the chicken, potatoes, and corn; drown everything in Zesty Italian and garnish with a child-sized fistful croutons. I wouldn’t have dreamed of eating my dinner any other way. And neither could my brother or sister in regard to their respective methods.
And my poor mother would sit there every single Sunday evening, trying to carry on meaningful conversation with her three growing children as she struggled to ignore their dissonant eating habits all for the sake of harmony.
Sunday Chicken Dinner Salad
To this day, my mother asks me if I’m going to make a “mish mosh” of my food whenever we dine together. I can’t blame her for doing so. I happen to like multiple flavors and textures in my mouth at the same time. And I mean that in the cleanest way possible.
Although my palate and style of preparing dinner are (hopefully) much more sophisticated than when I was a child, I do maintain the habit of piling everything together when eating at home alone. In public, I am a little more discreet– creating my mish mosh one mouthful at a time, leaving what’s on the plate in its original (although rapidly diminishing) organization. I love slicing off a small piece of steak and pushing it through my mashed potatoes with my fork until it comes across a little clump of hitchhiking spinach, which it always obliges with a pickup. I enjoy soaking up warm egg yolks and bacon grease with a piece of toast as if I were patting out a wine stain on the sofa with an old sponge. I prefer it when the ice cream sitting next to my cake begins to melt, hardening the frosting and weakening the crumbs. One component compliments the other, or contrasts. And I like it both ways.
I also mean that in the cleanest way possible.
Just like people who need people, I am a firm believer that foods which needs other foods are the luckiest foods in the world. Or, more correctly, that people who need foods which need other foods are the luckiest people.
There is no recipe for this salad, because that would be a ridiculous waste of time for me to attempt, and a tedious exercise for you to read (thank you, by the way, for making it this far).
Just make your favorite Sunday chicken dinner and eat as you prefer, making sure you save plenty of leftovers. When you feel ready, warm said leftovers, chop into manageable pieces, pile them on top of your favorite greens, and drizzle with your favorite vinaigrette. If you’re anything like me, you’ll love it.
Or, if you’re anything like my brother, you’ll think this is the stupidest way to each chicken in the universe.