Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ken Hom: I thought everybody was Chinese!

Soul food: Ken Hom on his mother's rice and sausage hot-pot

The Chinese chef recalls a favourite dish from his childhood in Chicago.

Ken Hom

By Ken Hom

I was born in Arizona but grew up in Chicago, in Chinatown. We spoke Chinese and ate Chinese. Until I was six I thought everybody was Chinese! At the centre of Chinatown was the grocery store. When a delivery arrived from Hong Kong everybody flocked to buy the produce.

My dad died when I was eight months old and my mother never remarried. She worked in a factory in order to feed us, stencilling boxes of tinned Chinese food produced for the American army. It was a meagre living but she didn't speak English so it was difficult for her to find work.

Mum cooked wind-dried sausages with steamed rice as a special treat. Once the rice had boiled dry she sliced two sausages on top and cooked it gently until the bottom became crispy. She crowned it with a crispy fried egg and a drizzle of oyster sauce. The aroma of the rice cooking with the sausage fat – it makes my mouth water just to think of it. She and I fought over the crust on the bottom of the pan. She'd be very naughty and eat it while I was out, but its toasty scent gave her away!

Sometimes she scooped out the rice and we ate the crust like popcorn in front of the telly. Or she added water and turned it into a crunchy soup. It is still one of my favourite things to eat.

'Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure', by Ken Hom and Ching-He Huang, is published by BBC Books at £25