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A Tiny Gift that Keeps on Giving

My late-Dad taught me that good things _ and good tasting things _ come in small packages.

As a kid, whenever I was too sick to go to school, I always felt a secret twinge of giddiness. Well, not only because I got to stay home that day, but because when my Dad came home from work, there would be a surprise. OK, maybe if I knew about it ahead of time, it wasn’t really a surprise. But to a child, it still qualified as one.

You see, my Dad kept a stash of new toys hidden away at the top of a hallway closet. Whenever I got a bad cough, or a fever that would give me creepy nightmares, he’d sneak off to that closet, and pull out a toy to surprise me with. A little doll. A wooden puzzle. A coloring book. A Snoopy figurine. He hoped that whatever he chose would make my pained eyes brighten. He always succeeded, too.

On lazy weekends, my Dad would sometimes make me shirred eggs as a treat. Oh sure, he’d fry eggs in a pan or make scrambled eggs routinely. But there was something extra special about having your own egg baked in its own little dish, topped with some Parmesan cheese, paprika, and a dab of butter. It somehow seemed more precious.

That’s how I felt about his foil-wrapped chicken, too. As a kid, I would help him fold the triangular packages of chicken marinated in a sweet-salty blend of hoisin sauce, soy sauce, Ketchup, and ginger. Unlike the version at Chinese dim sum restaurants, my Dad’s wasn’t fried; it was baked in the oven instead.

Of course, it would be easier to just cook the chicken in a pan without wrapping tiny portions of it in foil packages. But it wouldn’t be nearly as fun, not when the shiny packages emerge from the oven puffed up like Jiffy-Pop popcorn.

Tear them open over a bowl of steamed rice to catch all the finger-licking good sauce.

I first wrote about this dish three years ago in the San Jose Mercury News Food section. I still smile whenever I remember one particular response from a reader. Her young son, she told me, was a picky eater. In fact, he hated chicken. But she got him to help her fold the triangles of chicken. And when they were baked, he not only ate the chicken, but loved it. They’ve made it together repeatedly ever since.

Maybe it’s the ketchup — after all, what kid can resist the stuff? But maybe it’s just the act of creating and presenting something wonderful in wee packages that just can’t miss.

Earlier this month, on what would have been my Dad’s 85th birthday, my husband and I sat at the kitchen table, carefully folding these familiar foil packages for dinner, and reminiscing about my Dad, who passed away last year.

I felt gratitude for a recipe that I always will cherish, and for all the other invaluable gifts he gave me in life.

So Dad, thank you with all my heart — and stomach, of course — for all that you gave me, and still do.

My Dad’s Foil-Wrapped Chicken

(serves 4-5 as part of a family meal with other dishes)

2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken (breast or thigh) cut into bite-size pieces

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 (1-inch) chunks of fresh ginger, pressed through a garlic press

5 tablespoons light soy sauce

1/2 cup hoisin sauce

1/4 cup ketchup

Pinch of sugar

Dash of sesame oil

In a medium bowl, combine chicken with rest of ingredients. Stir well, cover and let marinate in refrigerator 2-3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take a roll of 12-inch-wide aluminum foil, cut off a 6-inch lenth of foil, and cut in half. This will give you two 6-inch square pieces. Continue to cut more squares like this from the roll of foil.

Place a heaping teaspoon or so of chicken mixture in the middle of a foil square. Fold in half diagonally to create a triangle. Fold the edge of each open side of the triangle over three times to seal well. Flip back each bottom corner.

Place filled foil tiangles on baking sheet. Bake 25 minutes, and serve. Everyone helps themselves to some of the triangles at the table. Open each bundle by undoing hte folded edges, or by using a fork to pierce the center.

— Recipe by my late-Dad, Bob Jung