There is much made of the idea of ‘soul food’ in various cultures around the world. One that always sticks in my mind because of the title of a certain self-help book that I never bought or read is Chicken Soup for the Soul. I think there is a stereotype of the Jewish mother fixing chicken soup to heal all ills.
When I think about it, it seems that soul food is manifested in comfort. Comfort food. Spiced lamb dishes, roast chicken, rich beef stews, they all feed the body and the soul in equal part and they give comfort.
I thought it would be interesting to look at the last meal requests of Death Row inmates. The Last Meals Project website allows this type of analysis to take place. ‘This type’ consisting of ogling each dead murderer and being amazed at the food they chose. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Their choices of food possibly represented both their state of mind and their scope of mind.
What struck me was that none of them ordered food of any value. I doubt food was the main worry on their minds. It was mainly cheap and with little nutritional value. It seemed extra poignant – with a few details it created a backdrop of hopelessness, regardless of whether the condemned prisoner deserved his or her sentence.
There is a limit of $40 on the funding for the last meal, to ‘avoid excesses’ but there was no thought to get a good steak and chips for that, or half a roast chicken and all the workings. I think I was surprised because I expected to see comfort food chosen. Maybe some of them had never eaten a steak. That’s what I mean by scope.
What would your last meal be?
Magpie’s Last Meal
Roast Garlic Chicken Pasta
1 whole chicken (preferably as free range as you can get for the best flavour and the most meat). Roast it on 200 deg C for 20 mins per 500g/1lb plus 30 mins at the end but keep an eye on it. My oven cooks it without the 30 mins.
20 mins before the end, pour a glug of EV olive oil onto a garlic bulb, wrap it in foil and pop into the chicken tray.
10 mins before the end, cook the pasta – biggish pasta, like bows (farfalle) or big shells – about 75-100g per person I think. i reckon to two large handfuls per person. Drain.
5 mins before the end, saute roughly chopped onion and bell pepper until the onion is transluscent.
When the chicken is cooked through (stick a knife in its armpit, hold it there and let the juices run over the blade. If they are at all pink, pop it back for another 10-15.), pull off as much meat as you think will balance the pasta.
Chop the chicken pieces loosely with the skin still on. Mix the lot with the pasta and throw in the warm onion and pepper. Toss everything. Add herbs if you fancy.
Pour off the juices from the chicken into a jug and add a few sploshes to the pasta mix not too much as the fats are mixed in with the stock and not separated.
Hopefully the garlic has now cooled off a little. Carefully split open each clove and remove the garlic inside. I find the tip of a dinner knife helps but burnt fingers are unavoidable.
Mush the soft garlic into the mix and serve in large dishes, Italiano stylee.
A Further Note: However you choose to eat your Soul Chicken, the best job you can make of it is to put it straight in the oven, a little salt dusting its skin, maybe a lemon in its nether regions and roast it on 200 deg C for 20 mins per 500g/1lb plus 30 mins.
I forgot to take the string off this one.