Moment in Peking, by Lin Yutang
Copying the southern custom of making “beggars’ chicken,” she would bring out for a picnic a whole chicken, with the entrails taken out, but the feathers unplucked. She would take a lump of clay and smear the chicken all over with a coating of mud and bake it in an open fire, like baking potatoes. After twenty to thirty minutes, depending on the fire and the size of the chicken, she would take it out, and the feathers would come off with the caked mud, and inside would be a steaming hot chicken, delicate and tender, with none of its juice lost. Tearing the wings and legs and breast apart with their hands and eating them dipped in soya-bean sauce, they found this beggar’s delight the best chicken they had ever tasted in their lives. She declared that, after all, the simplest cooking was the best, depending more on nature than on culinary showmanship. A good cook was like a good educator; his duty was solely to bring out the talent of the chicken and show it to best advantage, as a good teacher brings out the talent inherent in a young man. Granted that the original talent was there in the chicken, too much coaxing, stuffing, imposing, and spicing would merely distract from its simple beauty and virtue.