One day, this friend of mine asked me to bring him some bak chang made by his mother. He was living in New York at the time, and I was going to visit him for a couple of days.
Smuggle some comfort food to the other side of the planet for a dear old friend? No problemo.
I hopped along to his mother's place, and Aunty gave me six bak chang to hand-carry to her son, plus another six as reward for the bak chang mule.
When I got home, I immediately steamed one of the little pyramids of glutinous rice, pork, mushroom, chestnuts, etc wrapped in bamboo leaves. I eagerly unwrapped the piping hot dumpling and took a mouthful, making sure there was a bit of each ingredient balanced on my chopsticks.
Chomp, chomp, chomp . . . chomp . . . ch . . . .
But . . . but . . . this is very ordinary what!
The dumpling wasn't bad, but it wasn't very good either. I was expecting something extraordinary because my friend had said his mother's bak chang was the best in this and the next galaxy, or something to that effect. But what I got instead was a very mediocre, average bak chang that was nothing compared to those made by my mother.
The next day, I and 11 bak chang flew off to New York, and promptly got thrown into jail for smuggling . . . . Just kidding. With my innocent look, I sailed through customs, like always (unlike those guys here.)
I stayed with my friend for two days and we had bak chang for breakfast on both days. Watching my friend's rapturous enjoyment of the unremarkable dumplings, I realized he wasn't at all objective in judging his mother's cooking. His mum's dumplings may be ordinary but, to him, they were so precious that he froze the seven he had remaining because he couldn't bear to finish them too quickly. Guess what? I couldn't either if I were he, which was why I nodded enthusiastically when he asked me if the bak chang was the best in this and the next galaxy.
I'd like to say the fried chicken wings my mother made were the best ever bar none. But I'm mindful that I'm not the best judge of my mother's cooking. You should take what I say with a pinch of salt, as I do when other people rave about their mother's cooking.
Oh look, here's another one who thinks his mother's cooking is the bee's knees:
|'My mother loved good food and liked to cook for her children. When I went to college and had to eat institutional food in the hall, I was miserable.|
After I married and set up home, we had Cantonese maids. They were good cooks, but they could not quite reproduce the Peranakan dishes my mother cooked. So we got used to different standards.
A year ago, my niece, Shermay Lee, updated my mother's cookbook and called it The New Mrs Lee's Cookbook Vol. 1: Nonya Cuisine. It won an international award.
She had invited me to dinner at her cooking school in Chip Bee Gardens. Her dishes evoked memories of my mother's food. But either because of my age my palate has become dulled and jaded, or the ingredients are no longer the same; in my memory, my mother's dishes were better. However, for those who have never tasted my mother's cooking, Shermay's will be the next best available.'
Lee Kuan Yew, 3 August 2004
Foreword to The New Mrs Lee's Cookbook Vol. 2
Whenever my mother made fried chicken wings, she'd nick my father's XO Cognac and add a good splosh of the expensive brandy to the marinade. That, along with ginger juice, was what made her fried chicken wings special, she said.
In a time when meat was scarce, it was strictly one chicken wing per person. As a kid, I ate only half of my entitlement at the dinner table. The remaining half – the tip and the 'mid-joint' – I would savour it sitting on the swing in the backyard. I chewed off the skin very slowly, nibbled on the meat, then sucked on the bones. I could, I swear, make half a chicken wing last 30 minutes. That's the fondest memory I have of food in my childhood, and it explains why I think KFC is verging on inedible.
Is my mother's recipe for fried chicken wings the bee's knees? I think so but then I'm totally biased. You'd have to try it and see for yourself.
|XO COGNAC FRIED CHICKEN WINGS|
(Recipe for 12 wings)
12 chicken wings weighing 1 kg
wash and drain; chop each wing along main joint into 2 pieces; chop and discard tips if not eatingMarinade
2 tbsp light soya sauce
3 tbsp oyster sauce
1 clove garlic, peel and pound finely
3 shallots, peel, wash and pound finely
70 g ginger, peel, pound finely and squeeze to yield 2 tbsp juice
1 tbsp Cognac
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground white pepper
⅓ cup tapioca flour
vegetable oil for deep-frying
Marinate chicken for 24 hours, refrigerated, covered, and placed in a single layer if possible, in maybe a roasting pan or large Ziploc bag. Turn over once midway, or once every few hours if not in a single layer.
20-30 minutes before cooking, remove chicken from fridge to come to room temperature.
When you're ready to deep-fry, drain and discard marinade. Dredge chicken in tapioca flour, patting gently to remove excess.
Deep-fry wings in hot oil over medium-high heat till golden brown and cooked (meat feels firm when pressed). Remove from oil. Increase heat to high. Reheat oil to just smoking. Deep-fry wings again, this time till just golden brown. Drain using rack or sieve lined with paper towels. Serve immediately with sweet or garlic chilli sauce. Meat should be juicy, fragrant and nicely seasoned; batter should be crisp and not oily.
To make fried chicken wings that are juicy, crispy and not oily, you need to do 5 things:  Deep-fry right after dredging the wings in tapioca flour. If you wait, the flour will turn soggy, and soggy tapioca flour absorbs a lot of oil when it's deep-fried.  The oil for the first round of deep-frying should be hot enough to bubble rapidly around the chicken.  The oil for the second round should be hot enough to bubble furiously.  Use a rack/sieve (to prevent condensation) lined with paper towels (to absorb excess oil) for draining the fried chicken.  Serve immediately once the chicken is drained.