I was a junior in college before I knew you could cook chicken any way but two. My mother's, which was salted, sprinkled with a touch of pepper, and thrown in the oven for an hour. Or my father's, which was the same as my mother's, except slapped on the grill during summer.
Hers was dry; his was either charred on the outside or raw near the bones. No, my family was not what you would call culinary daredevils, and until one magical afternoon in the middle of New York State, I was following in their non-foodie footsteps.
A friend had an older boyfriend, and the rest of us considered him the height of sophistication. He had already finished graduate school and worked at our college.
"And he cooks!" she told us. And she didn't mean he threw chicken on the grill between May and September. She meant sauces, and side dishes, and desserts.
We were excited when he invited us over for a Labor Day barbecue at his house. As the coals on his grill were heating up outside, we were chatting in the kitchen, where I saw pieces of chicken, bathing in a bowl of marinade. I had never seen chicken in any form other than bare and about to be sacrificed to the oven or the grill. I asked him what he was making.
"Cornell Chicken," he said matter-of-factly. Certainly I'd heard of Cornell, the Ivy League school only 25 miles (and a whole lot of SAT points) away from our college campus. He told us it had been created by a Cornell faculty member. (Dr. Robert C. Baker [1921-2006], a former poultry science and food science professor to give credit where it's due.) It was juicy and tangy and -- for me -- opened up a whole new way to think about chicken.
That afternoon I did something I'd never done before: I asked for the recipe. And the first person I gave it to was my dad.
This makes enough marinade/basting sauce for 4 whole chickens, cut in halves. Extra marinade can be refrigerated for several weeks:
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
Starting with the egg and oil, combine all ingredients until thoroughly blended. Pour ½ cup of the marinade over the chicken pieces and coat them evenly. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Remove the chicken from the marinade, and wipe off excess from the surface. Grill chicken over charcoal, turning and liberally basting with the sauce every 10 minutes, for about an hour, or until cooked through.