IT IS, DILEMMA.
FORTUNATELY, ONE THAT COULD BE TACKLED WITH A BIT OF REVERSE-ENGINEERING.
We don’t, most times for good reasons, screw with heirloom recipes. Recipes that are passed down for generations. Recipes that our grandmother learnt from her grandmother, so on and so forth, are generally deemed as the sum of all collected wisdoms in a pot, sacred, untouchable. Recipes that should and will be followed, obeyed even, without any desecrating thought of adding an extra tbsp of mustard here or a dash of unholy spices there, otherwise somewhere inside the dusty family album, grandma’s tearing up. Because this is how it has always been done, as far as recipes go, is an unarguable instruction.
But should they be? My family, for one, doesn’t have an “heirloom recipe”. Not really. My mom is a fantastic cook, which probably isn’t a credit to both of my grandparents whom, from what I’ve heard, were either too short-lived or too much of a diva to teach her anything in the kitchen. And as far as paying-it-forward goes, she never writes anything down. So all in all, a single generation and one big approximation, I think, is probably not an heirloom recipe makes. But, if I were to pass down anything from my mother’s repertoire of ambiguous recipes, if there’s anything that resonates my memory of cooking and eating together as a family, it is this. My mom’s braised chicken legs over rice.
I don’t quite remember when she started cooking this dish, but by estimation, somewhere right after we moved to Vancouver from Taiwan. This tastes and smells like coming home after school. And as a notoriously picky eater back then, this evoked my first acknowledgment of hunger. In my wishfully sentimental heart and eagerness for an “heirloom”, I would pick this recipe out of it all, to be passed to people by whom I would like to be remembered. You. But coming back to what I was saying, I don’t regard heirloom recipe with absolution. If anything, and I’m sure as in most cases, it is a progression. If I were to pass this recipe on, looking back, I wouldn’t do it exactly the way she did it.