(My) Teriyaki Chicken

We’re young, maybe three, on an adventure in the backyard. The wooden shed at the back is always good to explore. We spot some cans on a shelf, out of our reach. We’re inquisitive, maybe just nosy; we want to find out what’s in those cans. I grab a stick, or maybe Twin Bro does, and we prod at the shelf inching the cans towards us. After a short time gravity takes over and the cans tip on their side; paint cascades down over us. Drenched in paint and crying in unison, we sprint back out into the yard.

Ma spends the afternoon there with us, hose in one hand, scrubbing brush in the other.

It’s the middle of the night and Twin Bro has spiders in the bed. He wakes us up, crying. I turn on the light and Big Bro checks under his sheets. The spiders are gone and we go back to sleep. It’s an hour later, and the spiders are back. Big Bro turns on the light and I check under his sheets. The spiders are gone. Took months for the bastards to finally leave him alone.

Out in the sunroom, windows on all sides, it’s the middle of summer and flies are everywhere. We’re four years old, maybe five. The crashing sound summons Ma, who discovers us swatting the flies against the windows. Using the buckle of a belt. Her timely intervention saves the windows, but three flies do not survive.

We’re eight years old, outside our fathers flat. It’s the school holidays. After three days we’ve watched four movies about American Indians, have broken the plastic firing submarine for the huge battleships game, worked an hour with dad at work and been paid $10 each, and had homemade fries for dinner each night. Dads asleep on the couch, snoring. Big Bro’s watching TV, and Twin Bro and I are bored. We go outside to explore.

Outside the flat are overgrown flowerbeds and broken concrete. An old, worn down wooden shed is at the back. Inside we discover a bulging milk carton on the dusty concrete. Our eyes triangulate between the milk carton, a nearby rock and each other. We nod quietly, bend down each side of the rock, lift it up together, and waddle over to the carton. We’re smiling now, as we heave the rock into the air, quickly take a step back and cover our ears, excited at the popping sound that’s sure to come.

It doesn’t pop. It squelches then bursts, instantly drenching us in slimy, cream-coloured, rancid old milk. The smell assaults us, we yell, we scream, we sprint up the stairs into the flat, straight for the bathroom. The shower is flung on; clothes and all we climb in, giggling, laughing, and giggling again. We woke up dad; he pokes his head round the door, starts shaking it. We just laugh and giggle some more, washing the milk off.

It’s Mothers Day, we’re ten years old, outside in the backyard playing soccer. Big Bro goes to kick off, and when his foot hits the ball, an earthquake hits our town. It’s massive. Ma’s on the porch; it’s wobbling in unison with the rumbling quake. She’s yelling for us to get inside. Twin Bro and I race into the kitchen, diving under the table. Ma’s bottle collection, lined along shelving across the living room walls, is crashing to the floor, a carpet of shattered glass. Big Bro is still outside, racing around the house, yelling and laughing, falling over and getting up, manic as he circles the house. Ma keeps yelling: “get inside!”

That night as we sleep, the aftershocks keep hitting, and I crawl into Twin Bro’s bed. We cling to each other as the rumblings continue, for that entire sleepless night.

It’s our last year of Primary school; we’re twelve years old. The 9 am bell is still 45 minutes away, and we’re out on the tennis courts, playing against each other. Within ten minutes it’s turned to doubles, us against our friends, and right up to that opening bell we’re still undefeated. During morning tea we sweep through 15 minutes of tennis, still victors on the court. Come lunchtime we blast through two teachers, intent on ending our reign. A body blow with a tennis ball retires one, the other claims a bad back and shuffles back to the teachers staff room. The class below us is playing on the next court; their top player is sent over. We dispatch him back quickly, bruised ego to go with his bruised body – we never let a gentle return lob go unpunished. By the time the bell goes at the end of lunch, we’re playing against each other again, the court to ourselves.

It’s the following year, we’ve moved towns and moved school. It’s the first class on our first day, and the teacher is angry. The class sense he’s cracking, they become louder, disobedient, disrespectful. The teacher tells them as much, and then, unbelievably, slams his books down on the floor and storms over to a nearby window. He opens it, crawls through, and disappears out of the classroom. This was not like school back home. I look at Twin Bro and we both look out the open window; it sure looked inviting that day.

We’re 18 years old now, on the first day we’re legally allowed to drink in a bar. We head down to the local pub, intent on a quiet beer and a game of pool. We order our beer and sip on it as we wait for a game. Two old timers are finishing up, and as one triumphantly pots the black, we insert our coin and begin to rack up. The two men, stunned for a moment, bluntly point out the blackboard. We slink back to the table after writing our names down on the board, embarrassed as the two laugh at our inexperience. They sense an opportunity, and when our turn comes up offer us a game of doubles, with a friendly wager to start: a jug of beer for the winners.

Perhaps at this point we could have told them, that from the age of seven, we’d had a pool table in the lounge room. We’d played daily, mammoth multi-set games, for the best part of the past eleven years. We didn’t though; we just smiled, shook hands and asked who broke. They told us the challenger always breaks, so we broke, for the first and last time that evening.

As their losses kept piling up, like the empty jugs of beer on our table, their manner went from rude to ungracious to downright hostility towards our winning form. The beer was not dulling our effectiveness, instead unleashing more daring and ambitious shots from us, each one corralling the other to do better. In a desperate act, the men switched tact, betting top shelf liquor on each game rather than beer. This now necessitated one eye being closed as the balls multiplied on the table, and I took it to a new level by simply closing them when shooting for the black. And sinking it. Twin Bro evolved it slightly by looking over at the two men as he sunk the black. We never missed. Or lost. All night …

… Until they took umbrage with our antics (mainly mine my brother informed me years later) and challenged us to a different game, involving us, the alley out the back, and their fists. The bartender thought it best for us to take our leave.

So we swayed down the footpath towards home, and on the side of the road spotted the chassis of a lawnmower in the back of a parked ute. Taking ownership of the mower, I jumped on the front and Twin Bro raced me down the smooth asphalt, my frantic yells of ‘faster! Faster!’ echoing through the suburban streets. They were abruptly silenced as quickly as Twin Bro abruptly stopped – in front of a bark covered garden. Physics took over and I was flung into a bush, bloodied knees and elbows all askew. Remorse swept over my brother, and after checking for vital signs helped me back onto the mower. He drove me all the way back home, screaming the siren call of an ambulance as he ran.

Ma woke us the next morning, our heads throbbing, dried blood on my sheets, and quietly inquired about the lawn mower sans engine parked neatly in the driveway.

We’re thirty years old and I’ve traveled six hours across state. It’s late in the evening and we’re out on the porch. We sip on a beer and talk about the past. Mostly we can’t speak, the tears are flowing down our cheeks, our stomachs are buckling, we can barely breath, we’re laughing so much. We talk about the future and our dreams together; we plan our battles and talk up our chances. It gets late, we’re both tired; it’s time to go to bed. I get up and hug my twin brother, say I love him. He hugs me back, says he loves me too.

Hey Mr Peko-Train, this one’s for you.

(My) Teriyaki Chicken

          

We peeled potatoes side by side together, when we were young; cooked a cup of hot chocolate in the microwave for ten minutes too. We’ve barbecued together, cooked a roast together, had a forgettable Thai meal with his girlfriend once. Cooking has always been a constant for us, even from a young age: when asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, my four year old twin brother replied “feed the skinny people in Africa” … (Big Bro wanted to be a lawyer – even then I guess he liked the idea of arguing with people …)

So when I was writing this post I tried thinking of a recipe my brother would like. Stumped, I reached out and sent a text: “what’s your favourite meal to eat bro?” “Enchiladas” he sent back.

Right … well as much as enchiladas have chicken in them, so does my Teriyaki Chicken, so this is the closest your going to get bro. Hope you enjoy it.

Ingredients:

  • Tamari or Low Salt Soy Sauce
  • Sesame Oil
  • Shao Shing (Chinese cooking wine)
  • Rice Wine Vinegar
  • Mirin Seasoning
  • Palm Sugar (I use the ‘pouring’ kind, easier to measure out)
  • Tamarind Pulp
  • Fresh Chilli or Chilli Paste (optional …)
  • Fresh Lime
  • Soba Noodles (not the drunk kind … drum fill please …)
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Fresh Coriander
  • Capsicum
  • Brown Onion
  • Celery
  • Carrot
  • Button Mushrooms
  • Baby Bok Choy
  • Chicken Breast (or thighs, de-boned and diced. I use two breasts for this recipe)

First … The Marinade:

This needs at least an hour to marinate (which is the most my patience has allowed) but would definitely benefit if left for longer.

(a small aside … I’ve made this recipe at least half a dozen times over the past month, and each and every time I’ve made an initial effort to record the quantities used … and then kinda forget half-way through. I’m a little slack in this regard, I’ll admit. So I’m guessing it would probably be best to be a little prudent, and use these quantities as a rough guideline; in my mind they are fairly approximate, and I’ve always believed that when it comes to marinades, more is definitely better. Hope that helps …)

First, grate a 1 by 3 cm cube of ginger, followed by around four to five cloves of garlic. Place this in a mixing bowl with the finely diced root of the coriander leaves (make sure you wash them thoroughly). Next, add around two cups of soy sauce, and around two teaspoons each of the rice wine vinegar, shao shing, mirin seasoning and sesame oil, a good squeeze of lime juice, with a tablespoon of the tamarind paste and double that for the palm sugar (which is why I use the pouring kind, it’s easier to measure). Either play Russian Roulette with a whole chilli, seeds in or seeds out, or use a teaspoon of chilli paste to add to the mix.

Mix this together well, and then submerge the chicken breasts, scoring each side of first around half a centimetre deep. Cover then refrigerate for at least an hour.

That is seriously the hardest part of this entire recipe.

Next … The Vegetables:

Take the capsicum, carrot, brown onion, celery, mushrooms and baby bok choy, and slice them up ready to be quickly stir-fried, making sure you have rinsed them all thoroughly first. I like to julienne all the vegetables apart from the mushrooms and bok choy: mushrooms aren’t all that easy to julienne, I just roughly chop these, and the bok choy (after rinsing!) I simply sliced length-wise. Place these aside.

Finally … Pulling it all together:

Take a large pot with a lid, or pan with a lid, place the chicken and marinade in (scrape the sides of the bowl …) cover with said lid, then leave to simmer for ten minutes or so (your chicken, your cooking time). After ten minutes, turn the breasts over, leave the lid off, and cook for a further five to ten minutes. Take off the heat, replace the lid, and leave to rest for at least ten minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, boil some water on the stove (in a pot, mind you, in a pot …) and cook the soba noodles for around four to five minutes. Rinse these thoroughly with cold water, then douse rather liberally with sesame oil, mix it in well, then set aside.

As the chicken is resting, fire up a pan to maximum heat (and in our household, open the windows and place a broom below the fire alarm, ready to bash it quiet when it inevitably goes off) and quickly stir-fry the all vegetables, except the bok choy. As it cooks, add a dash of the mirin seasoning, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. As the bok choy takes about half the time, if that, to cook than the rest of the vegetables, stir-fry this last, after removing the other vegetables.

It’s all plain sailing from here … Place the noodles in the bottom of a bowl, add some vegetables (there should be some juices at the bottom too, add these!) then the thinly sliced marinated chicken, and pour over oodles of the chicken marinade. Finish up with some roughly chopped coriander leaves and a few drops of sesame oil.

So again, not quite enchiladas, but fairly close. Kinda. Hope you enjoy it.

Michael Cameron