Back in the years when we began to favor chicken over steak, I lived with a man who had a vociferous overreaction to what he considered one of my bad habits. He hated the way I ate chicken. We'd usually finish about half of a crisp, rosemary-seasoned bird with a bottle or two of Chardonnay, and I don't remember a time that I could wrap up the leftovers without popping the rest of the crackly skin into my mouth. John, the boyfriend, would go wild. Depending on how much wine he had drunk, he'd accuse me of being selfish, bad-mannered or downright gluttonous. I argued that since it was my chicken (I had bought and roasted it, after all) I should be able to do anything I wanted with it. And besides, eating cold chicken skin the next day is pretty unappealing.
After one particular incident, I began to wonder if my behavior fit into some larger pattern. I realized that whenever I could, I shamelessly filched crispy bitsthe end slice of a pound cake, the blackened corner of a meat loaf, the firm top of a muffin. It then became clear that my entire life had been a quest to eat all things crunchy.
These morsels come in various shapes and forms. They can be parts that crisp while cooking, such as the tops of dessert crumbles or the crusts of soufflés. They can be items that once melted and later hardened, such as the cheese that escapes the edge of the tortilla in a quesadilla and becomes crisp lace on the griddle. Fried food, cooked in oil hot enough to avoid greasiness, falls into a category all its own: pommes frites (my favorite kind are double-fried in duck fat), zucchini and lemon chips, fritto misto.