Often parodies published quickly in the wake of mass marketing successes fail to hit the mark. Either the humor is too forced or there is nothing humorous at all about what is being satirized. But occasionally there are works that are so out there that their very titles capture the attention of readers. One such example is F.L. Fowler's Fifty Shades of Chicken, which not only riffs on E.L. James' (in)famous Fifty Shades of Grey but also serves as a chicken cookbook.
Culinary aficionados have long recognized the eroticism latent in food preparation. From the handling to the preparation to the delectable bites, food-based euphemisms have long been a part of erotic foreplay. In Fifty Shades of Chicken, Fowler plays up on these ties with titles such as "Chicken with a Lardon" and "Dripping Thighs." However, parodies can only go so far if they do not manage to do two things well: send up the original and tell an interesting story of its own. Luckily, the short passages that preface the 50 chicken recipes are short (1/4-2 pages), with rarely there being the sense that the parodic description goes overlong. Take for instance this excerpt from "Chicken with a Lardon":
"What kind of stove is this?" I ask.
"It's a Wolf LP dual-fuel with six dual bras burners and an infrared griddle," he says offhandedly.
Wow. Boys and their toys. He flicks a knob and an outsize burner ignites with a roar of flame. A heady aroma wafts from a gleaming skillet he's rested carefully on top of it. Is that bacon?
I've been placed precariously on the countertop while Blades does his mise en place. Once again I feel myself teetering on the edge. The edge of desire, the edge of despair – the edge of the counter. Crap.
It all happens in a flash. One minute I'm falling, the next I'm in his arms and he's clasping me tightly to his chest. He smells of bacon and imported onions. It's intoxicating.
He stares down at me with a hungry look. I'm so close I can feel the rumbling deep in his taut belly. Slowly he peels me from my wrapper. The plastic comes away, exposing my naked flesh.
Heat me, heat me, I silently implore, but I can't do more than cluck softly. (p. 23)
Based on what little I know of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, the prose is similar in its softcore (and apparently, later BDSM-like) eroticism. Yet here in Fifty Shades of Chicken, there are hints of various cooking shows on the Food Channel and other such domestic TV shows, with the erotic-like qualities of handling and preparing the food, with descriptors such as "bursting with flavor" and "succulent" being used in such a sensuous fashion as to make some wonder if the chefs have a hard-on or are feeling a bit nipply while they are preparing their food. The result is an amusing text that reminds readers not only of the E.L. James series, but also of the barely bearable cooking shows that they may have had to endure.
Regardless of the parodic qualities, no cookbook would be good if it did not include well-written cooking directions (and perhaps an enticing photo or three). Fifty Shades of Chicken contains recipes that novices and experienced cooks alike can easily follow. Yet even in these recipes, such as the "Roasted Chicken with Bacon and Sweet Paprika" (the recipe that follows the "Chicken with a Lardon" story snippet), there is a bit of a play with words:
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Finely grate the zest of the orange into a bowl. Stir in the paprika, salt, and pepper.
2. Massage the oil all over the skin of the chicken. Sprinkle some of the paprika mixture into the cavity; massage the remaining mixture all over the bird (you'll know you've done a good job if you hand begins to redden). Cut the orange into quarters the thrust the fruit deep into the cavity of the bird... (p. 24).
Of course, one can choose to indulge in their forbidden chicken habit in private, but Fifty Shades of Chicken is the sort of naughty cookbook that you surreptitiously leave about for your friends and family members to gawk at...and perhaps take a furtive peek into the food-lust-filled world of chicken marinating and roasting. It might not be for everyone, but isn't that precisely the point in having books such as this come out? Excuse me while I work up the courage to cook "Pound Me Tender."