Tied with ribbons, double-taped or adorned with a wad of stamps, care packages come in all shapes, sizes and forms.
But inside, they really all contain the exact same precious thing — the warm, comforting reminder of: “I’m thinking of you.”
My late Mom always conveyed that message with a rather unusual care package — a dish of Chinese-style chicken and rice.
A simple recipe that she made up years ago, the dish is a supremely savory, one-bowl meal of Jasmine rice cooked with Chinese black mushrooms and chunks of dark meat chicken marinated in soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil. The rice takes on the flavors of the marinade, mushrooms and chicken until they all become fused as one.
It’s a dish my Mom would make regularly for our weeknight family dinners, stir-frying the chicken in a big wok before folding in the rice that had cooked separately in a rice cooker. As a kid, that was my task after school — to wash and measure out the water for the rice, before pushing the button on the rice cooker so the fluffy grains would be ready and waiting for my Mom when she arrived home from work to finish making the dish.
The recipe makes a fair amount, so she’d often bundle up the leftovers in plastic containers to stash in the freezer for another time.
When I started living on my own, it wasn’t uncommon for my Mom to foist a few containers of her frozen chicken and rice on me whenever I came by to visit. I’d come bounding up the stairs to my parents’ house to be greeted with, “There’s chicken rice in the freezer for you.” Lest I forget, she’d always remind me just before I left to drive home, “Don’t forget the chicken rice! It’s in the freezer!”
I’m sure if she could have, she would have even mailed it to me when I lived clear across the country in Florida.
After all, mixed into that tasty bowl of chicken and rice was the universal every-mom sentiment: “You might be all grown up now. But I still worry about you and still always want to take care of you.”
And I was always grateful for that. Not only because that bounty of chicken rice in the freezer saved me so many times when I worked late, as it could be thawed and heated easily in the microwave. But because on those nights when I came home stressed and exhausted, digging into that bowl of chicken rice was like getting a virtual hug from my Mom that made everything in the world all right again.
Now that she’s gone, I make my own trove of chicken rice. Even years later, it still does exactly what she intended all along: It takes very good care of me.
My Mom’s Chicken Rice
(Serves 4 to 6)
8 chicken drumsticks or thighs
2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 tablespoons oyster sauce, divided use
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce, divided use
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, divided use
3 cups Jasmine rice, washed and drained
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
About 12 medium-sized dried shiitake mushrooms, softened in hot water for about 25 minutes
2 tablespoons canola, peanut or vegetable oil for cooking
Remove skin and bones from chicken, discarding or saving for another use. Cut chicken meat into 1/4-inch or bite-size cubes. Marinate chicken in cornstarch, 3 tablespoons oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce and 1/4 teaspoon sesame seed oil. Refrigerate for about 1 hour.
In the bowl of a 5-cup rice cooker, place rice, chicken broth, water, 3 tablespoons oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce and 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil. Refrigerate for 1 hour before cooking.
When ready to cook, place the bowl of seasoned rice in the rice cooker and cook according to manufacturer’s directions. When done, keep warm.
Rinse mushrooms, remove tough stems and discard; cut mushroom caps into 1/4-inch cubes.
In a preheated work or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, add oil. Add the chicken and black mushrooms, stirring frequently until chicken is cooked through. Turn off the heat. Gently stir in the cooked rice until everything is combined well.
Serve as a one-dish meal with steamed bok choy or sauteed asparagus, if you like.
– From my late Mom, May Jung
More Family Recipes: My Mom’s Tomato Beef Chow Mein