I cook every day. It’s more than what I do to keep my family fed. Cooking is a creative outlet for me.
I come from a family of good cooks, all of whom (as far as I know) always enjoyed preparing and serving food. Aunt Mary’s pot roast and brownies, Aunt Ruth’s chicken and dumplings and fried chicken, grandmother’s berry pies, my mother’s potato salad and almond bark candy are all happy culinary memories that I (almost) duplicate from time to time.
My mother expanded the variety of good southern food she grew up with when she became a Navy wife. Everywhere we lived, the foods were a little different, according to the people who lived there. Mother’s spaghetti sauce recipe was contributed by an Italian lady in Philadelphia. She realized she really liked Chinese food (which she’d never had growing up in North Carolina) while living in Massachusetts. Red snapper and Pompano were fish that sometimes found their way home for dinner in Florida.
My mother was a curious cook (so am I). She would taste almost anything edible, and more often than not, she liked it. Me, too!
I’ve always liked Chinese barbecued pork. You can order it as an appetizer at many Chinese restaurants, and pieces of it make any fried rice much better. The flavor and appealing pink edges make it hard to resist.
Several weeks ago, I picked up a packet of seasoning for Char Siu (the “real” name of the seasoning that turns Chinese barbecued pork that beautiful pink color on the outside), thinking I’d use it for a pork roast. Rummaging through my packets of mixes, spices and herbs looking for something to go with chicken breasts for dinner, I came across the Char Siu seasoning.
I’ve been looking for something different to do with chicken. I’ve marinated it in Italian dressing, teriyaki, and all manner of similar stuff before grilling. I’ve basted it with barbecue sauce while it cooks. It’s gone into stir fries, fajitas and tacos.
Char Siu isn’t a traditional “chicken” thing, but that’s never stopped me. I cut the chicken into strips, which could be grilled on shish-ke-bob skewers or broiled on a rack in the indoor oven. The instructions on the Char Siu packet recommended marinating at least 4 hours — overnight is best. Of course, the instructions were written for marinating pork, which is much denser than chicken. So I put a pound and a half of chicken strips and Char Siu seasoning in a self-sealing plastic bag and refrigerated it for about half an hour before I fired up the broiler. That gave me time to steam some rice and make a salad.
I used the rack method, since I was finishing the recipe in the oven. It took only 7 minutes on each side to cook the chicken perfectly — juicy, but done all the way through.
My Char Siu Chicken was a hit with everybody at my house. It was fast, utterly delicious, healthy, and different from the usual chicken dishes. For now, I’ll use the handy packets. Some day soon, however.
I’ll experiment with making my own seasoning mix and see what I can add that I might like even more. When I do, I’ll make a lot. Here’s the recipe I’ll use.
CHAR SIU SEASONING MIX
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup rice wine
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
Few drops red food coloring
2 tablespoons red bean paste
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
Mix ingredients and place with meat in a self-sealing bag in the refrigerator. Marinate chicken at least half an hour. Pork tenderloin or ribs can marinate overnight.
Makes one cup enough for three pounds of meat.
Linda Conway Eriksson can be reached at email@example.com.