My whole life I’ve been told that raw chicken is the equivalent to death. Well maybe not death, but salmonella for sure. All cooking shows I’ve ever watched make the point to show themselves washing their hands after handling raw chicken, then they proceed to wash the board, knife, plates, mop the floor and take a shower to get rid of any raw chicken residue. On my last trip to Japan (don’t know why I just said that, it was my only trip) I was in the smallest, cutest little restaurant in Chiba and was offered raw chicken. I instantly said yes, because when it comes to food, yes is my instinctive go-to response. Then I asked my Japanese speaking friend if that was actually a thing or did the chef just make that up to see if he could get the foreigner to eat raw chicken.She confirmed that that was a thing and it was delicious.
As much as I hate to admit it, I am continuously in search of foodie cultural capital. You know like casually telling the tale of the time I went to Dubai and bought camel ghee and now use it give my rice extra flavor (but actually). Or casually dropping the fact that I went to Katmandu and had momos from a street vender and didn’t get food poisoning (second shameless foodie mike-drop in one paragraph). Eating raw chicken in Japan is the ultimate of foodie cultural capital stories; second only to eating Fugu in Japan. Of course I was also curious how raw chicken tasted like; it’s the forbidden fruit of meats. We eat raw fish, raw beef, almost raw pork, but chicken is the last frontier.
While the chef was preparing the dish, I was already formulating the narrative of the epic story of the time I ate uncooked poultry. I would be the fearless worrier that devoured the flesh and asked for a second helping, and every time I would tell the tale, the amount of chicken consumed would multiply. But when the chicken arrived to the table, the heroic journey took a sharp right turn down Coward’s Lane. I was instantly filled with questions: “So we are sure this is safe, and not a joke? Should we let it steep in soy sauce? How many pieces is too many? And again, we are sure this is really a thing?”
Well there it was, raw chicken sliced thin and ready to eat. It was pinker than I imagined it would be, completely uncooked. I guess in my mind I thought it would simply be undercooked chicken, the way tuna is served, with a raw center. Nope, it was out of the fridge and onto the plate. Well I hope there was a fridge involved; at that point all my kitchen rules and knowledge did not apply. Under the guise of waiting to capture the moment I was able to stall a few minutes as I took a picture from every angle possible. Out of angles and questions, it was time to eat the chicken. I noticed I was really nervous, my hands were shaking a little bit and my heart was beating fast. I was not expecting such a strong response before even trying the chicken.
I grabbed a slice of chicken and dipped it into the soy sauce, and put it in my mouth faster than my fears could talk me out of it. It was surprisingly tender with a texture of raw salmon and tuna mixed together but with a taste of chicken. It was room temperature which made it even more unsettling. My friend explained to me that it does get dipped very quickly in hot water, but not enough to cook it. It was one of those weird moments where your taste buds are telling you one thing, but your mind is telling you another. My mouth was telling me that this was a tender cut of chicken that was good while my mind was simultaneously bombarding me with guilt and fear. I’m assuming that’s what it would be like if I ever ate dog.
I remember when I was young my parents cooked rabbit one night for dinner and had the insight to conceal that information until after my sister and I had tried it. I remember that before I knew it was rabbit I thought it was a very tender and lean chicken. They asked us if we enjoyed it and we both said yes. The moment they informed us it was rabbit, it was like my brain went back in time and changed my experience from enjoyable to wrong and disgusting. The difference with the raw chicken was that my brain and mouth were informing me concurrently.
I was so uber conscious of my body that I was aware of every chew, all the textures and flavors, and of the chicken making its way down my esophagus. I remember the saltiness of the soy sauce and how it was only on one side of the chicken. I remember that the chicken was softer than I expected a gave very little resistance. I noticed there was a tingling feeling around my lips; something that I now suspect happens when people eat fugu fish. The fear of dying was manifesting itself in a tingling feeling around my lips. I ate a second slice to appear valiant and to make sure I really did like it, as the first mouthful was fraught with thoughts of uncontrollable diarrhea and projectile vomiting. It was in fact fresh, tender, soft and slightly salty.
That food experience, more than any other, showed me the power of the mind over the body. I always knew that you can trick your mind into thinking you ate more than you did if you eat out of small plates, or that the minute I think something is good for me it starts tasting better. But this showed me first hand how your thoughts can make you physically sick.
It also showed me how conscious eating can change the experience. Very rarely am I so aware of everything, so focused in, so attentive. My fear heightened my senses which in turn seared that eating experience in my mind. I can now recall it not only mentally but physically as well, remembering how all my senses felt at the that moment. Imagine what it would be like if we ate every meal like this. If every mouthful was a reason to stop and fully concentrate on the process, the flavors, and the feelings. Maybe every mouthful is asking too much, but at least once a meal.n
Long story short, after my mind stopped playing tricks on me, the lip tingling subsided and I was able to enjoy the rest of my meal. Nothing happened to me and live on to tell the tale of day I ate raw chicken breast, and that it was delicious; I think. I will not be adding raw chicken to my recipe repertoire, but rather to my food stories repertoire.
Side note: Do not try this at home. Only attempt this under the supervision of a professional.