My late grandmother couldn’t cook even if her life depended on it. But there are two dishes that will always remind me of her.
When I was a child, whenever she came from Ipoh to visit she would bring along 30 tea eggs to be distributed to the rest of the family in Kuala Lumpur. I can still recall the smell of sesame oil, soy sauce and tea leaves from the broth that wisps through the house whenever she cooked tea eggs.
But the dish that most reminded me of my childhood with her was the Robin Hood chicken. As I stepped into the house she would be seated at the dining table with that “guess what I got you” look on her face.
Without wasting time, she dashed into the kitchen, opened the oven door and carefully took out a baking tray with a steamy brown crispy skin chicken perched on it. “ROBIN HOOD CHICKEN!” she announced.
You must still be wondering why Robin Hood chicken. No, it wasn’t because the recipe came from Robinhood, the heroic outlaw character. It was Grandma’s idea of entertainment by allowing us to tear the meat off the whole chicken “just like Robinhood did with his group of bandits.”
But I believe, if Robin Hood were real, he too would have loved the delicious tear of succulent chicken meat well seasoned with soy sauce, shaoxing wine, oyster sauce and a whole list of ingredients.
I carried this memory with me all the way to the various high end restaurants I worked in over the past 10 years as a chef. It was comforting to recall memories of how Grandma would take half a day to prepare the chicken.
Grandma was a school teacher who was very meticulous with writing, making sure every T was crossed, ‘i’ dotted and comma in place. Such was how she approached her marinate for the chicken. There was no room for a pinch, a handful and a dash. If given the chance, she probably would have embroidered the cavity of the chicken instead of piercing it with a toothpick to keep it closed.
Travelling through my memories and the food that I ate as a child growing up inspires me to pay more attention to recipes from the family kitchen.
Even though it looked like Grandma used almost all the sauces in the kitchen, trust me, they make up a concoction of marinate that produces caramelise flavour heavy on the combined aroma of shaoxing wine and sesame oil.
Here’s how I do it. Mix together
1 Tbsp Oyster sauce
2 tbsp light soya sauce
½ tbsp dark thick soya sauce
2 tbsp shaoxing wine
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
A dash of white pepper
1 thumb size ginger grated
1 sprig of spring onion
Rub chicken inside out with salt and ginger. Add the rest of the ingredients and leave to marinate for at least an hour. Stuff the spring onion into the cavity and roast in the oven at 180C for 1- 1 ½ hour depending on the size of the chicken.
Let it rest for 10 minute before doing justice by tearing the aromatic and juicy meat apart, just as Robin Hood would have done it.