Grandma was right — the way to a man's heart really is through his stomach.
Or so it would seem, based on the apparent romantic powers of a recipe that was featured in Glamour magazine (search).
In its January 2004 issue, Glamour printed instructions on how to make Engagement Chicken (search), a dish that at that time had inspired the boyfriends of three women to pop the question.
Since then — in a case of what came first, the chicken or the ring? — the magazine has received 21 letters (and counting) from women who say this simple meal was the magic trick that got them a rock.
“I made Engagement Chicken for my live-in boyfriend and less than two months later, I’m wearing a wedding band. This chicken is serious stuff. But please keep me anonymous — my husband doesn’t know he was reeled in by a chicken!” a Woburn, Mass., woman wrote to Glamour recently.
The easy-to-make dish consists merely of one whole chicken, two medium lemons, fresh lemon juice, kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper (click here for the recipe and the history of how Engagement Chicken came to be).
Not surprisingly, it tastes like ... chicken. But when it comes out of the oven — and presumably is set on a table between romantic candles — it looks very festive and fancy indeed, kind of like something Martha Stewart (search) would prepare.
But why would chicken — a dish not even remotely known for its aphrodisiac powers — get a man to propose marriage?
Jon Suder, the first man to fall for the chicken 22 years ago, said the well-dressed bird put marriage on his mind because it seemed like a wifely concoction.
"It's a meal your wife would make. It got me thinking," said Suder, who now has three children with the chicken-maker.
Others were more skeptical of the poultry's powers.
Joe Monteverde, 30, who works in television in New York City, said a good meal can be the way to a man's heart, but not when it comes to something as serious as marriage.
But if anything could do it for him, it wouldn't be chicken.
"It would have to be lasagna, flawless, better than my mother’s. I’m talking perfect," he said.
Tip Lipsey, a married pastor from Coleman, Ala., said no meal — not even a well-dressed bird — would have brought him down on one knee.
"I live in Alabama — chickens are everywhere," he said. "I don't even like chicken. I won't eat it."
Darryll Bailey, 52, also from Coleman, was similarly unimpressed.
"I was raised on a chicken farm — it’s my favorite meat. But even so, no," Bailey said.
John Molloy, who interviewed 2,500 couples of all ages and backgrounds coming out of marriage license bureaus for his book, “Why Men Marry Some Women and Not Others,” doesn't think a chicken — or any dish, for that matter — can change a man's opinion of a woman after a certain point.
But a well-planned meal might be a nice way to serve up "the topic."
"Guys like to be romanced, too," Molloy said.
Moreover — politically incorrect as it may be, men like women who know how to entertain, he said.
"Most men coming out of the wedding bureaus said about their wives, 'She’s such a wonderful person,' 'she's a nice person,' 'she's a competent person.' Men expect women to be socially adept — to handle themselves well. The chicken shows all those qualities — he's proud of the fact that she could entertain friends. A lot of women find that demeaning, but it's true."
But post-Suder, the real power of the chicken may be its history. Bolstered by the knowledge that the dish had done the trick for other would-be brides, Molloy surmised that the women who made it felt confident enough to bring up the topic of marriage during the meal.
“The women probably felt the guy was ready and probably hinted at those dinners," he said. "I bet they brought it up."
Indeed, according to Molloy, bringing up the subject of marriage, with or without a plate of poultry, is the only way to get a guy down on one knee.
"Many guys said that they went out with a girl for three to five years and didn’t propose because she never brought the subject up, or she did, but by then it was too late. Women drop hints — guys don’t get hints. You have to say it straight out!"
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Twenty-eight-year-old Lenora Shapiro, who tied the knot with her sweetie last August, said it definitely wasn't her culinary prowess that got her husband to say "Will you marry me?"
"I can tell you that it wasn't my cooking ... I didn't start cooking until really recently," she said. "So what is the moral of this, you ask? Well, maybe girls shouldn't give up the goods in the kitchen so fast ... everything that you never did before the wedding that you do now is an added bonus."
But that way of thinking didn't stop Brenda Lau, a 29-year-old teacher who has been dating her boyfriend for three years, from joining Glamour readers in the Engagement Chicken stampede.
"What's the recipe??" she demanded.