Recently, I went back to Malaysia to celebrate my birthday with my family. This year I turned 39. When I came to Australia back in 1996, I was only nineteen years old. This year marked another milestone in my life, I have now officially staying in Australia longer than my birthplace. Despite I became Australian since 2007, a part of me still strongly attached to my home country where my family still is. Twenty years, yes, I’ve been away from ‘home’ for twenty years. It also means that I haven’t been celebrating my birthday with my family for a long, long time. To be honest, I am not that keen on birthday celebrations. For the last few years, The Pom would baked me Victoria Sponge cakes then quiet dinner at home, the simple things in life. Maybe that’s why I haven’t thought about doing anything special with friends or my family.
Unfortunately my father recently had health issues and admitted to hospital, it was a sudden wake up call for the whole family. I felt terrible and so distant from them living here by myself in Australia. That’s why this year I decided to go home during my birthday as an excuse to visit my family. I don’t particularly want a big celebration, but a family reunion dinner will be suffice. The Pom also came along with me.
Being the youngest, I didn’t get much chance to have a say in any family matters or decisions making. Only until the recent years (yes, I am much older and wiser now), my parents started to listen to me and seeking my advice now and again. I finally felt like a grown up, I was allowed to treat my parents to a USA trip to visit my brother who lives in San Francisco two years ago. And it would be the first time to share a Chinese dinner banquet with my family and being all grown up, I paid for the meal. We had crab, suckling pig, prawn, free range chicken, cod fish, it was a great 10-course meal. During the meal, I slowly caught up with all the goss and news what had happened in the family. Many childhood memories brought up at the table and we would laughed at ourselves. As we were finishing our banquet with the last course of fried rice, I felt a new knot had been tied between family members once again. I was glad that I got to celebrate this year’s birthday with the people who I thought are so distant from me but yet so close to my heart.
Same same but different, I chose to share this claypot chicken rice recipe from my cookbook, “Have you eaten?” as it reminds me a lot of that fried rice from my birthday dinner. Claypot cooking is an ancient cooking technique that has been around since the Roman times. The claypot needs to be soaked in water before cooking so it releases steam during cooking process, creating a tender, flavourful dish. When the chicken rice is cooked in the claypot, the bottom layer will yield a caramalised crust from the soy sauces, exactly the same as Socarrat in a paella. Alternatively, you can also use a small dutch oven or cast iron pot.
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into cubes
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon cornflour (cornstarch)
- 5 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 200 g (7 oz/1 cup) jasmine rice
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 5 pieces thinly sliced ginger
- 1 tablespoon dried shrimp, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, then drained and dried (optional)
- 3 anchovies, roughly chopped (optional)
- 2 lap cheong (Chinese sausages), thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1 spring onion (scallion), thinly sliced
- fried shallots, for garnish
- COOKING STOCK
- 250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) water (from soaking the mushrooms)
- 1 tablespoon dark soy caramel
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce, plus extra to serve
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Soak claypot in water for at least 1 hour, ideally overnight.
- Put the chicken cubes in a mixing bowl. Combine the sesame oil, light soy sauce, oyster sauce and cornflour, then pour over the chicken and stir to coat in the marinade. Set aside to marinate for 10 minutes while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
- Soak the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of hot water until softened, then drain, reserving 250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) of the mushroom water for later use. Remove the mushroom stalks.
- Wash the rice in cold water a few times until the water runs clear, then drain.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a claypot over low heat and gradually bring it up to medium–high heat. Add the garlic and ginger, and the dried shrimp and anchovies if using, and fry until fragrant. Then add the lap cheong and chicken and cook for a further 3–5 minutes until lightly coloured. Add the rice and mushrooms and stir to mix well.
- To make the cooking stock, mix the reserved mushroom water with the remaining ingredients.
- Pour about 3 tablespoons of the cooking stock into the claypot to deglaze it; stir to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the claypot, then pour in the remaining stock, stir well and bring to the boil. Once boiling, immediately put the lid on, turn the heat down to low and cook for 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and let it rest for 10 minutes. It is crucial not to open the lid at this point, as the rice is still being cooked and steamed with the residue heat inside the claypot.
- Fluff up the rice with a fork, garnish with spring onion and fried shallots, and give it another good splash of light soy sauce before serving.