Saturday, December 04, 2010

Add An Egg

"But how do you get the sauce to thicken?" Susanna's mother paused with meat cleaver in mid-air, giving the raw pork she had been aggressively mincing a brief respite. "It never separates when you make the sauce. I can't stop mine from turning into hot greasy water with flecks of dried scallop in it. How do you do it?"

Susanna's mother stared at her unnervingly and without blinking for a full minute. Just as she braced herself for a possible swipe with that formidable knife (because her mother had an unpredictable sense of humour), she stepped back, and finally blinked. "You need chicken powder," she said. "To make it delicious."

It was a disappointing answer. Chicken powder was the secret ingredient that was her mother's completely not-secret solution to every cooking conundrum. Anything that was not 100% mouth-wateringly flavoursome during cooking got a spoonful of chicken powder just before serving and was thereafter a massive hit. It was a particularly disappointing answer for Susanna because she had tried chicken powder in all sorts of dishes in her own kitchen. The result was a series of meals that tasted of nothing but a well-known brand of high salt content flavour enhancer.

"I've tried that," whined Susanna. "It doesn't work. The sauce still separates and the chicken powder just floats on top. I make it just the way you make it and still comes out wrong." Susanna's mother glared at her. After two minutes of concentrated glaring, she spoke. "You must add an egg. That is the only way to make the chicken powder work." Susanna didn't understand, and said so. "Chickens need eggs!" shouted her mother in reply. "It's like adding water to milk powder, you need to give the powder what was taken away from it."

The conversation was turning into another convoluted, confusing, emotionally charged fact-abusing grudge match. "That's ridiculous. I add water to the chicken powder to bring out the flavour, why would adding an egg be better? It's water that's been taken out of the chicken and putting water back in should be what makes the chicken powder work. An egg is just... stupid." That was the wrong word and they both realised that a moment too late. "Stupid? So all these years you've been eating my stupid food and liking it? Doesn't that make you stupid?" was her mother's retort. It hurt Susanna, not that her mother called her stupid but because there was a logic to the retort that she couldn't challenge. "Okay, it's not stupid, and therefore, no, I'm not stupid but still... do you really add egg to chicken powder? How, why would it work better than just some water?"

Susanna's mother visibly calmed herself and then composed her face into her Old Wise Woman look. "You need to know, my daughter, that chickens and eggs have special relationships with one another. If you have one, you must have the other. They cannot operate alone. Every time you use chicken powder, you must add an egg too. It is nature. It is true."

There was a ghastly silence. "What... what are you talking about?" Susanna managed to eventually splutter. "Chickens and eggs are two completely separate things. Why... why would you add an egg every time you use chicken powder? You don't add chicken to every egg dish you cook! That would be ridiculous, you'd have to stick a drumstick onto every fried egg!"

"Ah, but I do!" said her mother mysteriously, clearly relishing her own fake mysticism. Then, just in case her Oriental enigma was too mystifying for her thick youngest daughter, she spoke again. "Not a whole drumstick each time, but I do sprinkle a bit of chicken powder on the yolks. Or over the top of an omelette. And if it's a boiled egg, I always shell them and roll them in a little bit of chicken powder and white pepper. You've always liked that. I'm surprised you haven't learned to do that for yourself by now."

Suddenly indignant, Susanna blurted out: "I have never rolled my boiled eggs in chicken powder before eating them. Never. I have never done that. I think eggs can taste fine without chicken flavouring."

"Well, you're not a very good cook then, are you?" sneered her mother, abandoning all her Old Wise Woman affectations. "You just don't understand, you just don't want to understand the importance of chicken to egg. And egg to chicken! Eggs are the essence of chickens!"

They were both screeching now. "How is an egg the essence of a chicken?" shrieked Susanna. "Because that's what chickens are when they come into being!" her mother shrieked back. "They all start life as eggs! So when you try to add chicken flavour to something with chicken powder which is nothing but dead chicken, you need to give it back its essence." Susanna flailed her arms helplessly at this. She had one chance to blow up this whole theory and return to normality.

"And adding chicken powder to eggs? What the hell is that?"

"You are giving the eggs a chance to know their potential flavour as chickens. You give the eggs a chance to taste better, by adding the flavour of what they could have been if they had been hatched."

There was no beating that. Susanna quietly accepted the one kilo tin of chicken powder her mother gave her after their unusually quiet dinner together. She held it on her lap on the bus home and idly turned it over to read the ingredients. Among the additives, salts and starches listed, there was also egg. Susanna kept the tin after she used up all the chicken powder; it was something she wanted to give her own daughter one day.