We had Kung Pao chicken for dinner tonight. As I was preparing the dish, my thoughts naturally turned to my Ye Ye — paternal Grandpa.
Ye Ye with little Joan
My first memory of Kung Pao Chicken was at a lunch in my Ye Ye’ house, which was three bus stops away from my maternal grandparents house, where I lived. My paternal grandparents were from Sichuan and Kung Pao Chicken is a Sichuan classic.
My Ye Ye was a famous surgeon in his time, though food is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of him. Food was scarce when I was growing up but my Ye Ye always had the most abundant lunch waiting for us every Sunday. He converted one of the bathrooms into a smoke house to smoke meat and poultry. I did’t know how he was able to come up with the feast while everyone else’s food was rationed. I still don’t know. Perhaps he saved all his ration for the weekly banquet with us. Or perhaps he had patients in high places.
Ye Ye in the middle and Joan far left
My ancestral hometown – an ancient town by the Yangtze that prospered in Ming Dynasty but declined after the railway replaced the river transportation. Part of our old house is now a museum.
Last year, China Central Television did a Chinese version of Who Do You Think You Are with me. The journey brought me back to my ancestral hometown in Sichuan, where I discovered much about my Ye Ye’s life before he became my Ye Ye. The gentle old man I called Ye Ye fought in three wars and some of the bloodiest battles. No wonder he seemed unperturbed by anything. And he lived his life to the fullest.
Grandparents with their three children during Japanese invasion of China. Ye Ye was the head of a war torn hospital in Chung Qing. My father was the boy with the bow tie.
In Korea fighting the American Imperialists
Ye Ye had a hero’s welcome after the war in Korea. He is in the front center, and my grandma is the third on the left in second row. My 3 aunts are on the right of my grandma behind Ye Ye.
Here is a toast to my Ye Ye, who is probably eating Kung Pao Chicken right now in Heaven.
I have cooked this dish dozens of times by feel. The following recipe is adapted by me from a Kung Pao Chicken recipe by rasamalaysia.com. And the dish turned out amazing.
1 1/2 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons oil
4 slices peeled fresh ginger
2 clove garlic
1/2 small red bell peppers (seeded and diced)
3 dried red chilies
2 stalk scallion
1 jalapeño (seeded and diced)
1/2 cup peanuts or cashew nuts)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon cooking wine
1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Marinate the chicken for 20 minutes.
Mix all the Sauce ingredients in a small bowl, stir to combine well. Set aside.
Heat up a wok or skillet with the oil, stir fry the ginger until aromatic. Add the red bell peppers, jalapeño and dried red chilies, stir fry until you smell the spicy aroma from the dried chilies. Add the chicken (save the marinade to use with the sauce) and stir fry continuously until the chicken turn opaque. Add the roasted peanuts, and stir in the Sauce+the saved marinade. When the sauce thickens and the chicken is completely cooked, add the scallions before transferring the Kung Pao Chicken out on a serving platter.
Stir fried mustard green with garlic.