The memories of early childhood are often muddled together so much, it’s hard to separate reality from fiction, or from someone else’s story. For example, do I really remember Leslie putting a hot baked potato in my jumper’s front pocket when I was 3, or was it a fable my mother told me? Did that 5 year old girl across the street, the one whose name I have blocked out, really give me a random leaf to chew on, after she had given fresh mint to my brother, whom she had a crush on? Vague and yet simultaneously vivid, these childhood memories. So I can’t necessarily attest to the accuracy of the story I am about to share, but it is at least partially true.
When I was a child, my mother used to braise chicken wings in a savory sesame-ginger sauce while my father would watch basketball for what seemed the entire day on the TV downstairs. I think it was mainly college basketball. I have no idea how he became such a fan. It’s such an All-American pastime, I really don’t know how my father, who came as an organic chemistry graduate student from Taiwan in the 60s, could have gotten so hooked. But he did, and he still watches when he gets a chance. While my mother would busy herself in the kitchen upstairs, and the aroma of her heavenly sesame-ginger-scallion chicken wings would gradually fill the entire house, there was my dad on the couch downstairs, feet propped up on the coffee table. That image, I am sure, is true. He would have really All-American snacks while watching the game: a 6-pack of Budweiser, a bag of Lay’s potato chips, before they were baked into healthier submission, and a container of Breakstone’s sour cream clam dip. He is a compact man, and I do not know how he managed to consume all of that himself, but I think he pretty much finished all of the above during the course of a Saturday afternoon game. Although if you asked him, he would say, “Linda always exaggerates.”
Afterwards, it would be time for dinner, and we’d have my mother’s glistening chicken wings with steamed white rice and some stir fried Chinese greens on the side. The flavor of the rich sauce soaked into the rice was incredible.
When not lazing and snacking in front of the game, my father would spend most of his time teaching me and my brother life lessons. His most often repeated lesson was on frugality. Nothing could go to waste– he would routinely inspect my trash can and remove items which I was ready to discard, but he felt still had some life left.
I thought I had come a long way. Living in a city with a goal of “zero waste,” I have become quite skilled and dogmatic about recycling and composting– we produce very little trash. But not to my frugal father’s standards. When my kids were small, my father stopped me from putting scallion roots into my composting bin. True to form, he said, “You waste too much.” Seeing as I was an inadequate role model for his version of “zero waste,” my dad used the scallion roots as an opportunity to teach my daughters how to be less wasteful than their mother, and also how to grow their own food. They were excited to plant the roots in the mini potted herb garden just outside our front door. Magically, and within days, we had more scallions!
In tribute to those chicken wings my mother used to make, and to the goal of “zero waste”, I’ve recreated a version of her wings, garnished with the scallions my father taught me and my daughter to resurrect from what would have become compost. This is one of the dishes I recently made for my mom (and dad) for her recovery from hip surgery. This time, my father approved; my taste buds helped me to faithfully recreate my mother’s recipe, and I remembered to save the roots for him to regrow.
Sesame-Ginger-Scallion Chicken Wings
2 lbs chicken wings
1/4 cup Asian sesame oil (Kadoya brand is my one and only)
1/8 cup soy sauce
4 quarter sized slices of fresh, peeled ginger
1/3 tsp white pepper powder
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon canola oil
green tops of 5 scallions, julienned
Accompaniments: steamed rice, stir-fried greens
1. Combine sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, white pepper and sugar in a mixing bowl.
2. Add chicken wings to the sauce and marinate for 30 minutes.
3. Heat canola oil in a skillet over medium heat.
4. With tongs, remove wings from marinade and place into heated pan. Allow to brown for a few minutes on each side.
5.When wings are browned, add water and the marinade, bring to a simmer, and then lower heat and cover skillet.
6. Stir occasionally so that the chicken skin remains intact.
7. When half of the sauce has reduced, turn off heat, add scallions and allow them to wilt.
8. Serve hot, over steamed white rice, with a side of stir-fried greens. Drizzle sauce over wings and rice.
Also great cold for a picnic.
I left these in the ground for a while- and got this huge onion!