I was thinking about my death row meal today.
In full clarity, I’m not going to death row. Well, I don’t think so. Okay, I haven’t currently done anything to necessitate my execution. Ask me again in a few hours. I feel like my plans are benign enough that I’m unlikely to commit murder, grand larceny or something super vile like jaywalking before bed. It’s not impossible. After a little too much caffeine I stop questioning what I’m capable of doing and start worrying about it instead. Mostly I just get very regular.
I know what my death row meal would be. It’s very specific and I’m quite surprised (I tried a quick search of past entries) that I haven’t mentioned it before. My death row meal would be my mum’s chicken wings and spare ribs.
It’s my favourite meal, hands down. Well, hands in too. It’s very involved. A huge batch of chicken wings and spare ribs in a gorgeously sticky sauce. It’s usually accompanied by rice and sometimes peas. It sounds simple, but it’s so much more than that. Like any tradition worth a damn, there’s ritual. I can’t overstate how much food there is, several kilos of assorted small meats almost dripping off the bone. The sauce is thick and sweet, without the gross mouthfeel of shoddily made teriyaki sauce. It’s the best kind of meal: One where you can get your hands dirty. Across the table are several bowls, some empty and others filled with warm water. Bones bowls and finger bowls. It’s rare to not have hands caked in sauce, and the finger bowls help mitigate the struggle of sticky fingers (besides what you’re able to lick off). The meat is tender, having been grilled with garlic before the sauce was applied. There’s something in the combination of density and softness that’s indescribable for an author of limited skill. Like all the best things, it’s supremely messy, but also intimate. The sauce goes so well over the rice, which soaks it up perfectly. If there are ever peas, they’re a small oasis of greenery in a desert of meat, sugar, soy and rice. You do not leave the table hungry. Very occasionally I’ll dream of this meal, which begs the question: Why don’t I just make it?
It’s not a challenging meal to recreate. As far as I understand, you slather the meat in garlic and grill it in the oven. After it’s well-cooked, you add equal parts brown sugar and soy sauce to an amount of water. You slowly heat it in the microwave, stirring every few minutes. When it’s starting to thicken, you douse the oven meat in this sauce and let it cook. Every once in a while you’ll reapply the sauce with a baster so nothing dries out. At some point you cook rice. That’s basically it. For all I know my mum just got it from a cook book, but it’s (at least in my mind) become her enduring signature dish. Whenever I eat this meal, I think of my family. This meal is love.
I’m an adult, I’ve made more complicated dishes than this. Frankly, I could probably just bung it all in the instant pot and have it ready in under an hour. For some reason though, I don’t. There’s no reason it needs to be bound to a time and place, but for some reason in my head it is. It’s a family meal and I haven’t pulled it out for other means. It makes no earthly sense. I’m resigning this to my impending death because… why again? My friends here are practically family. I think it’s high time I had a dinner party and shared with them the last thing I’d eat before I die.
I just hope that’s not tonight. We don’t have any chicken wings or spare ribs in the freezer.