My wife N had asked me where would I like to go for dinner for my birthday this year.Looking back at the events around my birthday, I would prefer to stay at home for dinner . We had been eating since our wedding anniversary day, followed on by a tea party the next day. The day after, we hosted a Chili Crab dinner for a family friend from Norway who is back in SG for her sabbatical home coming every two years. Too much at one go and I was feeling tired and craved for something simple. Simple actually meant more stress for N, who seldom cooks. Still, there are a few dishes that she does very well and more importantly it makes us feel more connected with her big effort. I am not a picky eater but somehow most people always feel stressed cooking for chefs. I can understand but just treat us as ordinary humans looking for comfort food. Something I understood when I catered to VVIPs like royalties, Hollywood celebrities and prominent business leaders in Europe and US.
On my B day after work, I walk into the house greeted by familiar smells and aromas of my wife's cooking. She had put together a couple of dishes with soup and dessert thrown in as well. I could sniff out my favourite Black Soya braised chicken that N does so well and the traditional Hakka dish of Stir Fried Bamboo Shoots with Minced Pork, Chillies and Eggs was in the works. She had also cleverly made soup using the pickled vegetables given to us by our Shantou relatives during our last trip to Shenzhen in August.
I don't often get to eat my wife's cooking due to our busy work schedules which is why I am very appreciative when she dons the apron. The soya braised chicken was done with whole chicken thighs that is not only tender from braising, it is also the most flavourful part of the bird for any kind of stew. Instead of doing it over the stove, N likes to slow braise the chicken thighs in the the oven uncovered after assembling the necessary spices and soya sauce. This allows a few pieces to be exposed to the top grill while sitting submerged in the gravy beneath. I call this the braise and broil method which the chicken comes out with minimal fat left on the skin, yet wonderfully juicy tender and full of flavours. While the ingredients are simple, the key to success is to have a really good soya sauce used.
Next was the quick stir fry of bamboo shoots with minced pork and eggs. N, who is semi Hakka, learnt this dish from her mother who had inherited this recipe from her own mother-in-law. Winter bamboo shoots were used as they do not have an unpleasant odour that comes with regular canned bamboo shoots. Fish sauce was the only seasoning added. Again, the simplicity of the dish with delicious flavours came through very well because of the bamboo shoots and fish sauce, both whom are ingredients with a high taste of umami.
The accompanying soup was well flavoured with by the pickled vegetables which I tasted for the first time. My mum had constantly told me that this was a specialty of our hometown in Shantou and if you use it to make soup, just throw in bland ingredients like tofu and canned button mushrooms, let the pickled vegetable do the work to harmonise everything together. How true! N had just used only tofu, coriander leaves and black pepper with the pickled vegetable broth. All things nice, we finished the meal with Glutinous Rice Balls with Sesame Peanut Filling in Clear Syrup that N had lovingly put together for me. She had earlier sent a birthday bouquet to the office resulting in unrelentless teasing from colleagues. Well, at least I am the only one with a wife that values such gestures!
Life's a bliss.....