Monday, December 11, 2006
Chinese Comfort Food For The Nostalgic (And Homesick) Soul
As I was growing up, school holidays meant watching cartoons and children's TV all morning, playing outside with the neighborhood kids all afternoon, and being allowed to stay up later than usual, perhaps to play video games on our Atari 2600 or watch television dramas like Dynasty even though I wasn't old enough to understand half of the grown-up themes on those shows. Staying home from school also meant home-cooked lunches by Mom, a nice break from sandwiches and school cafeteria food.
We were very lucky children, my brother and I, in that we had the best of both cooking worlds. My Dad liked to be a little more extravagant with his cooking as he cooked with bolder, richer flavors and ingredients and whipped up multiple dishes for each meal--two meats, a vegetable and a soup were the norm for dinner at our family's house. My Mom, however, is more of a simple cook who takes pride in her comforting, usually one-dish meals.
One of my favorite Mom foods to eat both growing up and in the present is something we call wui fahn in Cantonese, basically a stir fry of simple ingredients served over rice. Maybe it's homesickness, maybe it's stress, but I've been cooking alot of wui fahn lately--it's hearty, comforting, and incredibly simple to make.
The options of wui fahn toppings are wide open--you can pretty much use any type of meat and vegetable--the key is to make the stir fry a little more saucy than your average stir fry so that the gravy mixes with the rice. For this post, I'll show you how I make wui fahn with boy choy and chicken. Some other fave combos of mine include beef with Chinese long bean, pork with napa cabbage, and creamed corn (yes, creamed corn!) with chicken.
Check it out:
First make a pot of rice (long grain recommended).
Take some chicken thigh and cut it into thin pieces. Marinate with soy sauce, sesame oil, shaoxing cooking wine, sugar and a little cornstarch. Don't ask me how much because I couldn't tell ya--it's all trial and error.
Then prepare your vegetables. I like to cut the bok choy into thinner pieces, almost like a chiffonade but a little wider. It's really all personal preference however. Smash, but do not chop, one clove of garlic.
Make a mixture of a little water (half a cup, maybe?) and a teeny bit of cornstarch and set aside.
Heat a wok and add oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and the garlic clove. Stir fry the chicken in the wok until the chicken is cooked. Remove chicken from wok and set aside.
Add bok choy into wok and cook until tender. Scoot all of the bok choy onto the sides of the wok, forming a little well in the middle and add the water and cornstarch mixture. Stir to get some of those tasty browned bits into the liquid. When the liquid starts to simmer & thicken, add the chicken back into the wok, stirring together with the bok choy and cooking for just a couple more minutes until the bok choy, chicken and sauce have all had a chance to mingle. Spoon mixture over rice and dig in.
Because I would give anything to be on school holiday again, I like to eat my wui fahn in original old school kid style--with a spoon. There's just something about eating warm, tasty rice with a spoon that makes you feel like life is simple again.