Wednesday, April 13, 2011
This is another guest post by Vijay. I'm always excited when he wants to cook. Nothing beats having love put on a plate for you by your other half. Since I've taken up another new job which brings me out of the country (and therefore my kitchen) most of the time, I'm gunning for more meals made for me, especially something like this, a recipe from home, which we both miss. Next time I'll do the dishes baby!
Most people would swear by their mother's cooking. This is hardly surprising, it's what we grew up with and from infancy; our minds, bodies and perhaps even souls have come to accept our mum's efforts as 'goodness'. This is the case not only with home cooking, but also with food from our locality. Perhaps having to eat something of a certain flavor profile over a significant period of time encourages our palate to adapt to it.
Either way, this sort of signature in a certain style or taste gets etched into our systems. We won't realize this at first. Only when we move away from home, or have lost access to the fruits of labor of those who used to feed us, or perhaps when we start working and have our meals out that we realize "Hey, I kinda miss that good old [insert your favorite home cooked dish here]." or "Boy, I sure do miss that Hokkien noodle from that shop behind my house right now."
When it comes to mum-styled-home-cooked food, sometimes the simplest of dishes are missed the most. After all it's the simplest of dishes that we normally can't get at restaurants. So we all (or at least most of us) love our mum's (or even dad's) cooking. But if all mothers are created equal, then the world would be pretty filled with lots of good cooks. This, however, isn't the case. Sometimes it's not so much that they’re good or even great cooks, it's just that we’ve conditioned ourselves and gotten so used to the palate, we would regard whatever our mothers whip up as good.
Then there are mothers who can cook so well, they can convert a non-eater of a certain something into one. My mother is one such mum. Her food has fed hundreds of craving mouths during our Diwali open house sessions. Testimonies would come from a good number of people who have sworn off mutton yet now would keep coming back wanting more. My friend Joel comes year after year well armed with food containers to pack mutton varuval back for his wife if she's not able to visit (Joel, if you're reading this, don't blame Emilianie). The labors of love that Mum puts in, coupled with her natural gift that brings life and depth to the flavors she so skillfully put together makes her dishes shine. Cook from your heart, that's Mum's philosophy. Dad can also cook and helps Mum whenever needed. He may not be as patient or consistent as Mum, but on most occasions gets the job done. Sometimes they would each cook their own versions of, say, fried noodles and then put my brother and I in a spot to decide whose version was tastier. My paternal granddad whom I never met apparently was a real cook. Mum confirmed that he cooked really well, so did my paternal grandma.
With a family history of such track record, I guess it's only natural that I love cooking too but between you and me, I really hate the rigorous cleanup jobs after the mess I tend to make and many a times, that stops me going into the kitchen altogether. In my younger days, I watched and (tried to) help Mum in the kitchen whenever I could. These were also our chitchat sessions where we shared quality times heart-to-heart. It's been 17 years now I've lived away from home. You can imagine my cravings and for Mum's cooking – healthy, tasty and full of love. Whenever I'm back home, which is never often enough or long enough, Dad would ask what I'd like to eat, then get Mum's advise on what to buy and head off to the market shopping. I'd have a fiesta on Saturdays, then a siesta afterwards, belly swollen like a python. Another feast would ensue the next day before I depart, sometimes with containers of goodies for Pick Yin.
I've never managed to seriously pick up complete recipes from Mum. Whatever lessons I've gotten were during those times in the kitchen with her. Honestly, I don't know how much skills I've managed to get from her during those times but I think it did help me form some basic understanding of working with ingredients, tastes and textures. Recently though, I've decided to improve on what I got so when I was back home during the New Year, I got Mum to give me two of my favorite chicken recipes that I know I can pull off.
I told a very excited Pick Yin that I wanted to attempt my first of Mum's recipe, got my chicken and other stuffs from supermarket and got busy in what would normally be Pick Yin's territory (which she guards fiercely). The end result though, didn't meet my expectations although Pick Yin liked it. I was quite disappointed at not being able to replicate a dish as simple as this to how Mum's tasted. The texture, consistency and everything else were spot on but somehow the taste didn't quite match Mum's. However, my other half pushed me on and suggested that it might be quality of the soy sauce since not all are born equal. So I decided to attempt it again. This time I had on hand a different brand of soy sauce - courtesy of Pick Yin's mum (we are so lucky to have our mothers!). All the way from KL, the Malaysian soy sauce was used for our Lunar New Year dishes and many more after that. This time the result was about 95 percent close to how Mum does it - that 5 percent difference would require another session with her to see what I missed. Pick Yin, of course, loved it.
Thanks Mum for the recipe and all the wonders you’ve given me my entire life. You've inspired me in so many ways, cooking with love is one of them.
Chicken Kicap (Soy Sauce Chicken)
A simple recipe from home
Wok versus Pot: You can always use a well-sized pot (big enough to hold the chicken and allow for stirring) instead of a wok. I use the wok, as it is what Mum usually uses and I find it easier to see if I’ve coated everything well. However, bear in mind the heat distribution of both wok and pots are different. Woks heat up faster and can cause your chicken to stick and damage the skin if it’s left too long without being moved around.
Type of soy sauce: Without doubt this is the single most important ingredient (other than the chicken) so the quality will most definitely play a role in the final taste.
Balance of salt and soy sauce: This dish is not an exact science. You can always put in an additional dash of soy sauce, but remember that light soy sauce is salty. If you put in more of it, you may want to reduce the salt a little.
Stir, stir, and stir: This dish has very little sauce and most of what you end up with at end comes from the juices of the chicken and the caramelized onions so do make sure you stir well to ensure an evened out coating of sauce and other ingredients.
- 1 kilogram chicken, cut into portion pieces
- 2 onions, chopped finely
- 4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3-5 cloves garlic, whole
- 1 inch ginger, sliced thinly
- 2 tablespoons thick soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2-3 dry chilies chopped (discard seeds for less heat)
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½-¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 stalk coriander, chopped
- 2 tablespoons oil
Heat the oil in a large wok over medium heat. Add the garlic, followed almost immediately by the chopped dry chilies. Wait for the aroma to develop from the chili. Avoid burning them. Add the onion and ginger. Give it a quick toss.
Add the chicken and mix well, coating the chicken pieces with the oil and all the ingredients. This is especially important if you’re using a wok, so that you don’t end up burning the skin of the chicken from direct dry contact with the wok.
Add both the thick and light soy sauce. Once again, stir, stir and stir, making sure the sauce is evenly spread and all the chicken pieces have a slight color from the soy sauce. Add in the salt and pepper. Mix well.
Cover on low heat for about 15-20 minutes. If you took a long time to get here from the time you put in the chicken, then use very low heat while allowing the chicken to cook covered. During this period open the cover every now and then to give it a toss. After 15 minutes, test a piece of thigh for doneness.
Add in the coriander just before serving. Best with steaming warm rice, sauce and all.
Life Is Great explores the incredible world of food and cooking. We hope to share with you our most delicious moments and inspirations.
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Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
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