Seven years ago, my now ex-husband and I adopted a trembling, formerly homeless, possibly abused young dog. We named him Dingo, because that’s what he looked like – a skinny, wild, intelligent, aboriginal canine with enormous bat ears and almond-shaped brown eyes that bugged out slightly like a chihuahua’s, and an earnest furrow between his brows. He weighed a skeletal 27 pounds and was not housebroken and spoke no English and appeared to be unfamiliar with stairs, puddles, furniture, and domestic life in general. After he graduated from obedience school, we kept training him on our own. He was so eager to learn and so easy to teach, we figured he was a doggy genius, until it dawned on us that he would do anything – anything we asked of him – for food.
When we split up, we agreed to share custody of Dingo and have done so for the past three and a half years. These days, Dingo weighs a healthy 45 pounds, has gone grey at the muzzle, and is a mellow, well-mannered gentleman, but he remains as passionately, single-mindedly food-obsessed as ever. He has no sense of humor about food. He’s not one of those hilariously antic, clowning dogs who entertain for treats, nor does he beg with seductive whines and cute, obsequious expressions. He’s quiveringly aware of everything that happens in the kitchen. He knows his rights and exercises them without overstepping: he licks the beaten egg bowl, for example, and is always on hand to do so, but he doesn’t chew on cooked bones, so he never asks. Maybe because he grew up on the street, he won’t go near anything toxic: he has no interest in raisins, chocolate, onions, almonds, or avocado, even if they fall on the floor near him.
He understands that he’s supposed to lie at our feet while we eat, but sometimes, when it’s a meal he loves, especially chicken, he forgets himself. His nose nudges my thigh and I look down to see him sitting right next to me looking up at my plate, his face alight with quasi-religious exaltation, but he’s not begging, exactly. His feelings about food are so similar to mine, I can’t help feeling that there’s some sort of essential kinship at work here.
Coq au Rococo
This baroque, multi-step, multi-day recipe is a mash-up/amalgam of Brendan’s and my original separate chicken methods and is possibly Dingo’s favorite dish, item, event, and occasion, and also the love of his life, or one of them, anyway. He cashes in for days on end. Not only does he get the fresh chicken neck up front, later on he gets boiled giblets and carrots, and the next day, table scraps after we’ve eaten our fill a second time, and the day after that, cartilage and unusable but edible bits from the bird when it’s pulled from the broth, and the day after that, he gets warm soup broth ladled onto his kibble and he can lick our soup bowls clean. This recipe is very generous to people as well.
Preheat the oven to 475.
To the dog, give the raw neck of a large, whole chicken. Set giblets aside for now.
Cut into bite-sized pieces 3-5 shallots and half a lemon, peel still on. Put into a bowl and add a bunch of fresh chopped basil, 8 cleaned, halved baby bella mushrooms, the juice of the other half of the lemon, 8 peeled whole garlic cloves, and a big handful of good juicy olives. Mix well with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stuff both cavities of the chicken with this mixture and place into a large, well-oiled roasting pan.
Peel 5 carrots, 5 parsnips, and 5 potatoes, and cut them all in half. Toss them well in salt and olive oil, then arrange them around the chicken in the roasting pan. Put whatever remains of the stuffing mixture on top of the vegetables.
Rub the chicken with olive oil. Put a chunk of butter on top and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then uncover and turn the oven down to 350.
While the chicken roasts, put the giblets into a smallish pan with herbs, crushed garlic cloves, a quartered onion, and celery and carrot chunks. Take the limp juiced half lemon and pare and mince its zest and add to the pot. Add a dollop of red wine, and salt and pepper. Cover with cold water plus one inch. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the vegetables are limp, about 45 minutes. Strain the broth and use it to baste the chicken and vegetables during the last half hour of cooking. Feed the cooled, cooked giblets and boiled carrot pieces to the dog in whatever way you like. Make sure they’re not too hot.
When the bird is brown and crackling and cooked just to the bone and still tender, pull it out and put it on a carving board and let it sit for half an hour while the vegetables keep roasting in the pan. Pull out the stuffing; if it seems underdone, add to the pan in the oven.
Carve the bird and serve chicken pieces with root vegetables and stuffing to garnish. A crisp simple salad is nice afterwards – up to you.
Save the bones. Reheat and repeat this meal the next day, and on the 3rd day, strip off all remaining usable meat and trim and chop and set aside. Put the rest of the chicken, including all bones, into a big soup pot with onions, carrots, celery, parsley, garlic, herbs, lemon zest, red wine, and tomatoes. Cover with cold water plus one inch. Simmer uncovered, skimming as necessary, for 2 hours, then let sit for 2 hours. Strain through a colander over a second pot, pressing and turning the vegetables and bones with a slotted spoon to squeeze out all possible liquid. Discard the soup stuff. The dog will helpfully eat any cooked carrots and chicken scraps you might otherwise throw away.
Use the clear, savory-sweet, fresh broth to make a soup with potatoes and other vegetables and all of the chicken pieces the dog didn’t get. Garnish each bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of hot sauce.