The “slow food” movement emphasizes careful preparation and choice of ingredients as a response to modern society’s self-destructive tendency towards instant gastronomical gratification. It’s a noble sentiment, to be sure, but there are many times when all one wants to do after a long day at work is to kick back on the couch, watch syndicated repeats of Gilmore Girls, and nosh on some nuke-and-forget delicacies while contemplating Rory’s astonishing resemblance to a Blythe doll.
(Creepy, isn’t it?)
When such occasions arise — 2 to 3 times a week, on average — I turn to the heat-and-eat cornucopia of my local supermarket’s prepared food aisle, where all manner of food facsimilies can be acquired on the fly. The best bang for one’s buck is the store’s iteration of popcorn chicken, sold in a repurposed smoothie cup for a quite reasonable $2.99.
Popcorn chicken is of the same culinary phylum as the clam “strips” served at most seasonal eateries along the New England coast — small slivers of meat used as an anchor for globs of seasoned batter and frying medium. It’s a finger food, usually relegated to appetizer status, though with the proper accoutrements…
…like a tumbler of store-brand BBQ sauce, a can of Mello Yello, and a scale replica of a ’67 Plymouth GTX, it can serve as an entree unto itself.
The batter is acceptably flavorful, providing one finds “a shitload of black pepper and not much else” to be an acceptable flavor. Those who expect their fried chicken product to have a degree of crispiness will be disappointed by the texture of the individual gobbets, as process of microwaving tends to make the meat a bit on the chewy side. (I’m an old hand at the nuke-based bottomfeeding game, so meat that doesn’t have the texture and consistency of a grilled gummy bear raises suspicion.)
Despite some obvious limitations, Stop & Shop’s popcorn chicken does fulfill my basic requirements for crash-out fare: It’s cheap, it’s quick and easy to prepare, it panders to the lower end of my palate, and — most importantly — it usually waits until Lauren Graham has finished with her witty rapid-fire banter before expressing its violent disagreement with my enteric nervous system.