When I was growing up, I had an unusual favorite dinner. It wasn’t pizza, hot dogs or breakfast-for-dinner like most kids love. My elementary school-self loved Ragu’s creamy mushroom Chicken Tonight. The stuff was like cat nip to my untrained palette, I couldn’t get enough of it. No matter how badly my day was going, I would perk up when I saw that blue-topped jar sitting by the stove.
And then a terrible, horrible thing happened. Our local Kroger stopped selling the mushroom flavor. I hoped it was merely sold out, but when a different product took its place on the shelf, my hope waned, but was not entirely lost, at least not yet. We found out Remke, a more expensive, further-away grocery store still carried it, so whenever my mom was out in that direction, I would beg her to pick up a jar of Chicken Tonight. It didn’t last very long though. For some inexplicable reason, Chicken Tonight was discontinued. It was a sad day for my childhood. My mom tried to make me feel better by trying to replicate the dish with cream of mushroom soup, but it was not the same. I felt like chicken tonight, but it was nowhere to be found.
That glorious creamy mushroom taste was just a fond childhood memory … until two days ago. I was on My Supermarket looking up (what else) tortilla chips, when I wandered into the dip/sauce section in search of some unnaturally neon orange cheese. Instead I found something much more delicious — Chicken Tonight. I did a double take. It was in a green jar instead of blue and made by Knorr instead of Ragu, but it looked like the same stuff. According to Wikipedia, Chicken Tonight was launched in the US in 1990 and 1993 in the UK and still widely available in the UK.
From that moment, all I could think about was going to Sainsbury’s the next day. “What if they don’t carry it?” I wondered, imagining the Kroger scenario all over again. Or, perhaps worse, what if it didn’t taste like I thought it would? Because when you haven’t had something in over 10 years ago, you tend to elevate it to a level it could never reach. I kid you not, I even dreamed about Chicken Tonight the night before I went to the supermarket. But I got it. I almost knocked over an old guy lingering in front of the sauce display, but I got it … “My precious.”
That night I told Stephen I would be cooking, which in our household means using the stove (or “hob” as they call it here) to heat up food instead of the microwave. I browned the chicken and mushrooms until I could no longer take it — I opened the jar and stuck my finger inside. It tasted like … well, cold creamy mushroom sauce. There were no fireworks like I was anticipating, but I also didn’t gag. Eventually the dish was complete and I took a bite. I burned my tongue, but it tasted like … memories. I often associate smells with memories, but this was a taste memory. Was it the most delicious thing I have ever tasted in my life? Well, no, I’ve lived a lot longer than my 8-year-old self had. But it was good. Stephen also liked it, so I think it might make it into the dinner rotation. And now that I know my stove/hob works, I can call it a first step towards actually cooking.