From last Lunar New Year to this one, my life has gone through challenges and changes, and I wanted to shield my kids from all of it. It turns out that, despite my best efforts, they in some way perceive what’s happening, so I instead try to give them what stability I can. When that’s out of my control, I cook.
I want to believe that a favorite meal will make them feel like they’re home — even if we’re no longer circled around the same kitchen table we once shared. The problem is, we don’t have a tight little list of family dishes. Given my work as a recipe developer, their childhoods were filled with endless experiments: dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies, 17 versions of roast chicken, hundreds of dumplings. The dishes they remember the most clearly are the ones they tasted so many times in such a short span that they can no longer eat them. (Sorry about banana bread, kiddos.)
If pressed to name a meal that belonged to them — to us — it would be this shortcut chicken with ginger-scallion sauce. We used to call it Hainanese chicken rice back when I would prepare a version closer to the ones we ate when visiting family in Southern California. Like the original iterations in Hainan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the chicken poaches gently, ending up as silky slips of meat. That poaching broth, along with ginger and the bird’s fat, is then used to cook the rice, and it’s all served with ginger-scallion or ginger-garlic sauce, an inky sweet dark soy dip and scarlet chile sauce.