A few weeks ago, when the Dominican counter service restaurant a few blocks from my Brooklyn apartment closed with no notice and no explanation, I had what I can only describe as an existential crisis. The thing is, for the better part of this year, I subsisted off of the rotisserie chicken at El Rincon de Macon. I’d cooked furiously during the first leg of the pandemic while I was living with my parents in California, and when I came back to New York, I honestly didn’t have a lot of steam left. So regular stops at El Rincon became a ritual for me. I might not have the energy to grocery shop or dry-brine meat or gingerly wash leaves of lettuce, but I always have the oomph to walk 15 minutes down Nostrand Avenue, toward the glowing light of El Rincon’s big neon sign.
My order was pretty much always the same: a whole chicken, a helping of plantains, cooked to hell under the heat lamp, and on days when I was too lazy to even turn on the rice cooker, a big deli container of lovely, oil-coated rice. The chicken was always perfect, slathered in an herby coating of oregano and garlic and more salt than most home cooks are brave enough to use. The dark meat was juicy and falling off the bone, and the white meat was slightly stringy in a way that I always find quite pleasing — especially when I’m not responsible for the “overcooking.” In the summer it was the easy meal I needed before going out for a long night. And at the start of winter, it was warm and comforting — and extremely cheap.
When the lights went out at El Rincon I realized just how much I’d come to rely on a $12 chicken, so much so that on my very sad walk home that night, I had quite literally no idea what I was going to eat for dinner. I still love to cook, and when I have someone else to cook for, it brings me just as much joy and satisfaction as it always has. But when I’m just feeding myself, a rotisserie chicken brings the warmth of a home-cooked meal — and technically, it makes three home-cooked meals. It is easy, it is cheap, and it is better than anything I ever cook when I really don’t want to cook.
This winter (even if you live somewhere that never actually gets cold), I suggest finding your local rotisserie chicken joint, and incorporating that perfect bird into your “cooking” repertoire. I buy a whole chicken for date nights, easy lunches, and quick after-gym meals. Served whole, it’s as impressive as — and probably tastier than — the best home-cooked bird, and when you get down to the carcass and last scraps, it’s the ideal mix-in for pastas, sandwiches, and just eating cold, off the bone, to nurse a truly offensive hangover.
In the absence of my trusty El Rincon rotisserie chicken, I ate some admittedly weird struggle meals. There was a lot of pasta with frozen peas and jarred pesto. And plenty of canned tuna in places where tuna really does not belong. I am a food writer, yes, but I am an early-twenties “adult” in New York first.
So a few days ago, when I noticed the light above El Rincon had flickered back on, I quite literally squealed with joy. It was the relief of knowing that the easiest and cheapest meal in my rotation was available again, but also the contentment of knowing that I can enjoy my favorite home-cooked meal that I don’t actually have to cook.