A few weeks ago, my sister and I attended the 40th anniversary of our parish priests Father Joe and Father John. Both had been priests for 40 years and the community wanted celebrate this significant event with a special dinner. That night we watched a slide show that had been prepared of both priests throughout the years. It was actually quite touching to see how much a part of our lives they both were, especially on momentous occasions like baptisms, first communions, weddings etc. After the slide show, a number of people were asked to speak in honour of each of the priests. One of them was an elderly gentleman. This gentleman had actually been in the hospital for a few weeks but was given special permission to leave the hospital for three hours that day and he chose to spend it at this dinner.
The gentleman walked slowly to the podium and started talking about each of them. He talked about how Father John had come here many years ago from Vietnam, was fluent in French and had been offered a number of times to be promoted and move to head other parishes but he stayed put because he loved being part of this community. Father Joe on the other hand was an avid collector of anything and everything and had a weakness for auctions. He also loved gardening and was instrumental in ensuring that priests, when retired, were taken cared of.
It made me realize that there was very little I knew of both of them.
At the end of his speech, this gentleman asked us to reflect on the fact that whilst both priests had devoted their lives to serving the church and the community, no one was really there to take care of them. Might we, he asked, consider inviting them for tea one day?
I immediately put a note on my calendar to invite them over for dinner one day.
The thing is, prior to that speech, I had been seeing Father Joe every morning at the park where I walked my dog. Our interactions had always been limited to me waving to him and saying “Good morning Father!” and him giving me a friendly nod as he walked past me.
One day, I passed Father Joe as he was stretching before his walk, and, as I had done for a number of years, said “Hi Father Joe!” He gave me a friendly wave and I went on my way. A few steps later I decided to turn back. Why not invite Father Joe for dinner this weekend? I said to myself.
So I turned around and ran back to him. “Father, would you like to have dinner at my house?” I asked.
He looked at me, and his eyes widened in surprise. “Me?” he asked.
“Yes Father!” I said. “Maybe this weekend?”
“Me?” he repeated.
“Yes yes!” I insisted. He looked really confused.
And then I looked at him closely… and then I got confused.
“Are you… Father Joe?” I asked.
He looked amused and shook his head. “No, I’m not.”
“Oh my God! I’m so sorry…That’s what happens when you don’t pay attention at mass!” I told him and quickly said good bye.
When I do finally get to invite Father Joe, Kung Pao chicken is the dish I am going to make.
The recipe is from Rasa Malaysia’s Cookbook “Easy Chinese Recipes”. It has quickly become one of our favourite dishes to make. I’m normally not a fan of chicken breast meat as I find it too dry. Bee however shares her secret for super tender chicken breast – that is, marinating the chicken in baking soda for a few minutes then washing it off . Beware! This dish is highly addictive – think remarkably tender chicken pieces coated in a spicy, tingly, sweet and sour sauce. I’m sure that when the REAL Father Joe tastes it, the only comment he’ll have is “Oh… My… God!” :)
Rasa Malaysia’s Kung Pao Chicken
For the Kung Pao Chicken
- 250 grams skinless chicken breast, cut into cubes
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon chinese rice wine
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch or potato flour
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 tablespoon sichuan peppercorn oil
- 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
- 2.5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced (we used a mandolin)
- 10 to 15 dried red chillies
- 3 heaping tablespoons peanuts or cashew nuts
- 1 green onion, trimmed and cut into small rounds
For the sauce
- 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon chinese black vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon chinese rice wine
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3 dashes of white pepper
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch or potato flour
For the peppercorn oil
- 1/4 cup sichuan peppercorns
- 125 ml oil
- Make the sichuan peppercorn oil by heating the oil until very hot and the oil becomes shiny. Turn off the heat and add the sichuan peppercorns, mixing with chopsticks to release their aroma. Allow to cool and let the peppercorns infuse their flavour into the oil for around 2 hours. This step can be done ahead of time.
- To roast the peanuts or cashew, pre-heat the oven to 160c and place the nuts into an over proof bowl. Roast the nuts for around 25 minutes until golden brown. Set aside. This step can also be made ahead of time.
- Tenderize the chicken breasts by placing the chicken in a container and mixing the baking soda into the meat, making sure the chicken is evenly coated. Leave to marinate for 15 minutes. Once done, rinse the chicken very well in cold running water. Drain the chicken breasts and pat dry.
- Marinate the chicken in the rice wine and cornstarch (or potato flour) for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients of the sauce together.
- Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over high heat and stir fry the chicken until opaque and half cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add the peppercorn oil and stir fry the ginger and the garlic for a few seconds then add the dried red chillies for around 30 seconds or until their aroma is released. Add back the chicken and give it a good stir.
- Add the sauce which will thicken and coat the chicken nicely. Finally, add the peanuts and the green onions. Serve immediately with a bowl of steamed rice.