Monday, May 15, 2006
I had a dilemma: After shopping all weekend for the Mother's Day extravaganza and then cooking all day to prepare for our guests, we wanted tonight's dinner to be easy and not require a trip to the store.
One out of two ain't bad.
In the end, I opted for easy and go-to-store over time consuming and no store. I recalled having a delicious, falling-apart chicken at the home of one of my mom's Chinese students (Mom teaches English as a second language), and thought I'd give it a whirl. She called it 3-cup chicken, and she told me how to make it: Put a big piece of ginger in the bird's cavity, then steam the thing over a mixture of one cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and Chinese wine.
I ran out to grab a chicken, and five minutes after I got home the dish was steaming away. However, I found I didn't have enough sesame oil or soy sauce to get a cup of each, so I improvised and made one-and-a-half-cup-plus-a-little-water chicken.
I steamed my three-pounder for about an hour. Next time I'll check it after forty minutes, because it was slightly overdone. But hey, my first steamed bird was a total revelation, and Margy and I were buzzing with excitement. It was one of the simplest meals I'd ever made, and the flavor of the steaming liquids was all there.
Yet something was lost in translation. My mom's student's version was deep and dark, while mine was pale. I remember noting the rich color and asking her if the chicken should sit in the sauce, and I remember her saying no. So clearly some follow-up questions are in order.
Oh, and there was one more thing: the smell. While the bird cooked, the house filled with a nutty and inviting aroma that only made us hungrier, even after an hour. But sesame oil is potent stuff, and that aroma did not go away. All night, we had visions of sesame seeds and soy sauces. Each and every time I awoke in bed, that half cup of sesame oil was right there next to me. I could taste it. Putting on my jacket the next morning was like wrapping myself in one big sesame seed.
But it was worth it. I'll just do a little spraying next time.