For Tales from the Kitchen, a new video from Creative Time Reports and Delfina Foundation, the artist Candice Lin creates Beggar’s Revenge Chicken. This culinary artwork is adapted from the well-known Chinese delicacy beggar’s chicken, a dish whose name implies a story. Once upon a time a beggar stole a chicken from a wealthy landowner and then panicked, burying it in the mud by the river to avoid being caught. By the time he returned, hours later, he was too weak from hunger to clean the bird, so he cooked it over a simple fire, mud and all. When he cracked open the hardened crust, the chicken inside smelled and tasted fantastic.
Beggar’s Revenge Chicken revises the tale of class struggle behind the original dish to address power structures in contemporary U.S. politics. Lin carves the faces of Charles G. and David H. Koch—American industrialists known for their conservative politics—into the clay encasing the chicken. The billionaire backers of the American right are then baked in effigy and served piping hot. The dish is a metaphoric proposition, enacting revenge on our present-day “overlords” through ritual, art and food.
Beggar’s Revenge Chicken was one of the entrees served during Subtleties and Warnings: Power and the Edible Grotesque, a performative meal that took place at Delfina Foundation. Drawing on a variety of sources, the 10-course feast offered a contemporary take on the medieval banquet, in which kings impressed and intimidated guests with elaborate tableaux and ingenious dishes. It was among the works produced for Delfina’s The Politics of Food, Season 1, a program curated by Michael C. Vazquez that brought together 41 artists, activists, anthropologists, agronomists, chefs, curators, scientists and writers from 15 countries to investigate the global politics and ethics of food production, distribution and consumption.
Beggar’s Revenge Chicken
3 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 cup onion, roughly chopped
2–3 cloves garlic
1 half-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1 quarter-inch piece of fresh turmeric, peeled, or 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse to create a fine paste.
2 cups sticky rice
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried shitake mushrooms
1/2 cup Chinese sausage (or substitute Chinese barbecued pork or cooked ham), finely chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
2 or more cups chicken broth
Soak the rice in cold water for at least 2 hours; drain and rinse.
Soak the mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes; remove and rinse thoroughly, cutting away any hard stems and roughly chopping the rest. Strain and reserve mushroom soaking liquid.
Heat a wok or stockpot until just smoking, then add oil and swirl to coat.
Add the onion and stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute, and then do the same with the Chinese sausage.
Add the rice, stirring it thoroughly to ensure that each grain is coated in oil.
Combine chicken broth with reserved mushroom liquid so that you have 2 cups, add to the pot, and bring to a simmer.
Reduce heat to low and cook for around 20 to 30 minutes, until the grains begin to look translucent, adding more broth gradually as needed to keep the rice from sticking.
Allow rice to cool.
One 3- to 4-pound roasting chicken
2 dried lotus leaves
Soak the lotus leaves in cold water for 10 to 15 minutes until soft and flexible.
Carefully loosen the chicken skin and rub the spice paste all over the chicken, especially under the skin.
Pack the chicken’s cavity with the sticky rice stuffing and truss the legs.
Wrap the chicken in the lotus leaves.
1 to 2 packages of nontoxic potter’s clay
Roll out a 1/4-inch layer of clay and wrap it around the lotus leaf–wrapped chicken.
Make an effigy of your bitterest enemies by sculpting their faces into the clay and keep their writhing image in your mind as you bake the chicken at 200º C (400º F) for 75 minutes.
Remove from the oven and smash open the clay face of your enemies to reveal their warm flesh within.