Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mr. Foo's posthumously famous Chinese chicken wings

Mr. Foo was a quiet little man who walked his quiet little dog in his quiet little neighborhood. He lived in a little white house with black shutters and the curtains were always drawn; no light was ever seen from the street. Mr. Foo was very quiet, and while his neighbors had parties, played Motorhead blasting loud into the early hours of the morning, or had cookouts with lots of beer and ruckus on the 4th of July and such things, he never did. No one knew anything about Mr. Foo, when he had come to live in the neighborhood, nor where he had come from.

Mr. Foo drove a small white car.  Maybe it was a Smart car, maybe it was a Fiat or even a Toyota--no one really knew because he came and went so quietly.  His garage door was never open except when he left his house in his little white car, and then he shut it immediately.  No one ever saw him come or go from his front door or his garage.  Other people left their garage doors open--sometimes all day and night--and you could see a glimpse of how they lived because of what was (or wasn't) in their garages.  But not Mr. Foo, who was very quiet and practically invisible.

No one knew anything about Mr. Foo or what he did, whether he had a job, or was a reclusive movie star, or a retired CIA agent, or even had more money than Fort Knox buried in his basement, because he was so quiet.  He never talked to his neighbors and they never talked to him.  While other people in the neighborhood visited with each other over their fences, exchanged tomatoes for zucchini in the summer and homemade cinnamon buns or a pot of beef stew for firewood in the winter, Mr. Foo and his life remained a mystery.  Except mysteries only count when people are interested in them.  And sadly, it seemed that people weren't interested in the mysteries of Mr. Foo.

Mr. Foo came and went apparently as he pleased, and apparently unnoticed.  He took walks twice daily with his little dog, white with black spots, but always at times when no one else seemed to be on the street.  His dog never barked and always obediently walked with Mr. Foo on the red leash that kept Mr. Foo and his dog tethered together.  Mr. Foo was meticulous about cleaning up whatever little surprises his little dog left on the sidewalk, making sure that nothing was amiss or out of place.  And when at home, Mr. Foo was never in his back yard or his front yard, even though the grass was neatly trimmed and there were never any leaves under the only maple tree that grew in his front yard.  Mr. Foo was never seen coming or going.  Or, if he was, no one ever seemed to care.

Besides walking his dog twice a day, there was one other ritual that Mr. Foo had.  Every Friday night, precisely at 5:30 p.m., Mr. Foo would take Table Number Five at Madam Moo Shu's Chinese Restaurant, located right downtown across from the Rexall Drug Store.  Madam Moo Shu's was a small, narrow and dark space with red flocked wallpaper on the walls and Chinese paper lanterns with red tassels that hung over each table.  Mr. Foo would take his place at Table Number Five and fold his hands patiently, not even looking at the menu that was offered him.  He didn't look at the menu because he always ordered the same thing: Chinese chicken wings.

Mr. Foo loved Madam Moo Shu's Chinese chicken wings.  He would order one dozen, along with a Mai Tai cocktail, and would eat those chicken wings very slowly and very deliberately, savoring every morsel and leaving on his plate nothing but a pile of little chicken bones.  Then he would clean his fingers very carefully with Madam Moo Shu's red cloth napkin (delivered weekly, along with the red tablecloths), and just as slowly and deliberately, drink his Mai Tai cocktail.  Mr. Foo would always eat the maraschino cherry and the slice of orange, leaving the cherry stem and the orange rind lying neatly by his glass.  When there was a little paper umbrella in his Mai Tai (which was not always, just sometimes), he would carefully fold the umbrella up and also leave it lying by his glass, as if some other little creature living at Madam Moo Shu's Chinese Restaurant might need it in the event of a sudden downpour, having stumbled upon it later that night after everyone else had gone home.

One Friday, Mr. Foo did not appear at 5:30 p.m. The waiter who normally served Mr. Foo on Friday nights, an older gentleman named Freddie (who had a sad, droopy handlebar mustache and a thin-as-watered-down-soy-sauce combover), thought this was odd, having served Mr. Foo Madam Moo Shu's Chinese chicken wings every Friday night since he could remember coming to work for Madam Moo Shu.  Nor did Mr. Foo appear on the next Friday, or the next, or on any day thereafter.  Freddie became concerned and mentioned that he had not seen Mr. Foo in several weeks to Madam Moo Shu herself.  Madam Moo Shu, who was not only the proprietress but also the head cook, felt very kindly toward Mr. Foo.  Once, on a cold, raw and blustery winter night in 1987, Mr. Foo had asked Freddie to relay a message to the cook that he, Mr. Foo, liked the Chinese chicken wings very much and would always order them on Friday nights at 5:30 p.m. (along with a Mai Tai cocktail--paper umbrella or no paper umbrella).

Madam Moo Shu, after receiving Mr. Foo's message from Freddie, crept out from behind the stove and peered though the beaded curtain into the murky dining room.  She saw a small, slight gentleman sitting at Table Number Five.  Or rather, she saw the back of a small, slight gentleman's head sitting at Table Number Five.  But that is all she saw.  She was not able to see much else, because not only was the dining room dark, there were orders in the kitchen piling up.  Her assistant was in the weeds (a charming restaurant colloquialism that means not only not being able to keep up the pace but also being dreadfully, hopelessly clueless), having been newly hired just that week and not knowing yet how to make the gravy for the Egg Foo Yung.  So back to the kitchen Madam Moo Shu scurried.

When Freddie told Madam Moo Shu that Mr. Foo had not been at Table Number Five for several weeks, Madam Moo Shu also became concerned.  And so, later that night, after the last plates of Spicy Cashew Pork, Mongolian Beef and Shrimp Lo Mein were served and all the dishes and pots and woks were washed and put away, Madam Moo Sho and Freddie closed up the restaurant and got into her 1966 powder blue Lincoln Continental and went for a drive to find out what had happened to Mr. Foo.

But Madam Moo Shu and Freddie had traveled only 4 blocks when they both looked at each other and realized that neither one of them knew where Mr. Foo lived, nor did they know anything about him, for that matter, except that he had come to Madam Moo Shu's Chinese Restaurant every Friday night at 5:30 p.m. and had always ordered one dozen Chinese chicken wings and a Mai Tai cocktail.  And so Madam Moo Shu turned her 1966 powder blue Lincoln Continental around and she and Freddie very dejectedly returned to the restaurant, where they silently nodded good night to each other.  Madam Moo Shu drove home to her 8 cats and her split level red brick house on Wisteria Street and Freddie walked the four blocks to his very simple, very bare second floor apartment on Florida Boulevard.

Several weeks later, a small, obscure paragraph appeared in the obituary section of the local paper.  A Mr. Wang Ping Foo, age 68, of Cherrydale Avenue had passed away, leaving behind no immediate family or survivors, save one little white and black dog named Fushi.  Madam Moo Shu was sure that this was the same Mr. Foo who had come to her restaurant each Friday night at 5:30 p.m., sat at Table Number Five and ordered one dozen Chinese chicken wings and a Mai Tai cocktail.

Madam Moo Shu, as it turned out, was so distressed about Mr. Foo's passing that she enshrined Table Number Five, allowing no one to sit there ever again.  She burned a pineapple-scented candle at the table while the restaurant was open and scattered several paper umbrellas over the table top.  She also decided to have her menus reprinted, renaming her Chinese chicken wings "Mr. Foo's Posthumously Famous Chinese Chicken Wings."  These chicken wings, incidentally, have won many awards in many chicken wing cook-offs, which Madam Moo Shu likes to enter in her spare time.  When she is not reading Cat Fancy, that is.

Being a personal friend of Madam Moo Shu, I was able to convince her to share her recipe, as a tribute to Mr. Foo.  We would like everyone to remember Mr. Foo fondly, and to enjoy these chicken wings frequently in his honor.  And it wouldn't hurt to raise a Mai Tai cocktail in his honor one bit, either.  Find a good recipe here.  I hope you have those little paper umbrellas.

Mr. Foo's Posthumously Famous Chinese Chicken Wings

You can find ingredients for these delicious chicken wings in just about any supermarket.  Sambal oelek is a chili and garlic paste that is typically found in the international or Asian food section.

Although you can bake these wings soon after tossing them in the sauce, I think they taste best after soaking for at least 8 hours.

1 dozen whole chicken wing drumettes or wing sections
3 to 4 Tbs. sambal oelek (to your taste)
1 1/2 Tbs. honey
1 1/2 Tbs. dark soy sauce
1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
 sliced scallions, for garnish
lime wedges, for garnish

1.)  Wash chicken wings and pat dry; set aside.
2.)  In a medium-size bowl, combine sambal oelek, honey, soy sauce and grated ginger.
3.)  Toss chicken wings in sauce until well-coated; cover and chill for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
4.)  When ready to bake, bring wings to room temperature and line and jelly roll pan with foil.
5.)  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
6.)  Arrange wings in a single layer on the cookie sheet, separating them so that they can crisp evenly.
7.)  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the wings.  When done, wings should be cooked to the bone and nicely caramelized.
8.)  Arrange wings on a plate and shower with sliced scallions and lime wedges.  Squeeze lime juice over wings before serving.  Serves 2 to 4 people for a light meal or appetizer.

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