Tea and marriage, separation and fried chicken

My husband claims he fell in love with me when I served him a cup of tea at my brother’s house all those years ago.

The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook
A cup of tea and a letter from a distant loved one helps to warm the heart and transcend the miles.
The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook
This crispy Asian-style fried chicken starts with a sweet and spicy marinade. Then shallow-fry the chicken so each piece is tender and golden brown.

“With a smile and the warmth of

… a cup of tea, you caught me”

In black ink scrawled across college ruled paper, these simple words are strung together like precious pearls gracing a debutante’s soft neck. They offer a fleeting taste of the entire pie – a heartfelt poem of several stanzas that arrived in the mail, charged with the emotion of separation, the faint scent of a faraway place lingering between the lines.

Tea, like grey Seattle skies and the inconsistency of constancy, has always been a part of our lives. My husband claims he fell in love with me when I served him a cup of tea at my brother’s house all those years ago. We gave away sachets of jasmine tea at our wedding. And on many a cold, wintry evening, when the chill seeped deep into our bones, we’d share a hot pot of tea to thaw ourselves out.

In August, my husband and I celebrated 10 years of marriage. Our hearts proudly bear the battle scars.

As newlyweds in England, I, lonesome and failing miserably at being a wife in a foreign land, fled home to Singapore to seek comfort under my mother’s wing and the familial company of old friends. He thought I was never coming back. I did.

Then came the arrival of a child we waited five heartbreaking years for. Silly us. We had absolutely no clue what we were in for. The sleep deprivation. A super-fussy baby whose wails could rival the queen of the banshees. To “cry it out” or not to “cry it out.” Did I mention the sleep deprivation? That baby is now a beautiful toddler, and a beacon who shows us the way and reminds us why we’re journeying.

Over the years, oh, how the seams of our relationship have heaved and ho’ed under the strain of having a spouse who’s just as obligated to his country as he is to his family. One transatlantic move, three cross-country moves (and counting), and two run-ins with the USCIS later, like rock that’s weathered by wind and rain, we’ve been through rough times but we’re not broken. We’re just transformed.

We’ve come a long way, but the journey is not yet over.

Sadly, at this milestone, we’re separated by 11-1/2 hours, 6,720 miles, 2 continents, and a damn war that won’t go away.

So here I am, raising my cup of tea to a decade of married life, with a plateful of mochiko chicken on the table and an Omar-shaped hole in my heart.

My husband eats just about everything I cook but his eyes light up and he gushes every time I make mochiko chicken. This is one recipe from my cookbook that he didn’t mind me testing over and over and over again. I can almost guarantee that it’ll be one of his first requests for a home-cooked meal when he returns from his year-long deployment. In his honor, I’m sharing it with you today so you can share it with your loved ones near and far.

I made this dish my own by using tapioca starch (Southeast Asian cooks prefer this to cornstarch) which I think gives the chicken a crispier edge and nira (Japanese chives) instead of green onions.

Seek out Koda Farms Blue Star brand of mochiko, flour made from Japanese sweet rice (which is similar to glutinous rice) in the Asian aisle of many supermarkets.

Mochiko Fried Chicken

Time: 45 minutes, plus marinating

Makes: 4 to 6 servings as part of a multi-course family-style meal

2-1/2 to 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mochiko (sweet rice flour)
1/4 cup tapioca starch (or cornstarch)
1/4 cup sugar
Small bunch nira (or green onions), chopped (1/4 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Vegetable oil for shallow frying

Debone the chicken, and reserve the bones to make stock. Cut the meat into 2-inch chunks.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, soy sauce, mochiko, tapioca starch, sugar, nira, and garlic. Tumble in the chicken and toss to coat evenly. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least four hours, or preferably 12 hours.

Bring the chicken to room temperature before frying.

Line a plate with paper towels. In a large heavy skillet, heat about 1 inch of oil over high heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Reduce the heat to medium. Using tongs or cooking chopsticks, carefully lower thickly coated chicken pieces one at a time into the oil. You are shallow-frying, so the pieces will only be half submerged. Fry in a batch of seven to eight pieces (don’t overcrowd the pan) until both sides are crispy and evenly golden brown, two to three minutes on each side.

Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon, shaking off excess oil, and drain on paper towels. Use a slotted spoon or a wire mesh strainer to remove any debris from the oil and repeat until all the chicken is cooked.

Serve hot with freshly steamed short-grain rice, or cold as an appetizer or picnic food.

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