23 August 2010

Ode To The Pig

I love the Pig.  I think that no other creature that has walked the face of the earth can  ever be more gastronomically perfect than him.    I really, really do.  And that is saying a lot because as a gastronaut of sorts, I have a very wide and open-minded palate and therefore find joy and contentment in eating a plethora of things.  However, a perfectly cooked pig for me is like the absolution of sin, an experience both captivating and liberating in the same breath. I'm quite sure some of you may argue that some other animal is much worth the kind of admiration and adulation that I am doling out in this entry and I would completely understand my friends who belong to sects that forbid the consumption of pork, but to all others, please bear with me and hear the reasons for my love for the beast known as Pig. 

True that the Toulouse Goose (which gives us foie gras d'oie) or the Tajima breed of Japanese cows  (which give us our prized Wagyu steaks) are prime examples of beasts also worth putting atop a pedestal.  Oh and please don't get me wrong, I love both as much as the next carnivore and would not completely discount trading in my first born for an eat all you can foie gras and wagyu buffet. But may I just point out the fact that the sublime tastes and textures from these animals  are not congenital as they require much manipulation from man.  And don't get me wrong again, I am not against such manipulations (sorry PETA friends, I can only be me) because it is precisely because of these shenanigans that I am able to experience the smoothness, silkiness and creaminess that  I can only describe as the world's best savory milk chocolate (if there was ever such a thing) that is foie gras.  Similarly, Tajima breed of cows were not born with the most perfect marbling one can imagine that it might just as well be marbled by design.  This of course as we all know is the result of the cows staying put forever  in one place coupled with endless sessions of daily massages to the tune of classical ambient music add to that the perfunctory gulping down of at least 40 liters of beer and/or sake a day. And because of these accoutrements, the resulting cost for both foie gras and wagyu is much too steep for your average Joe, Kim, Pierre, Pedro to pay for.  In fact  our very own Juan here may never even see the top of the tin of worst grade canned foie gras there is for as long as he shall live.  These simply cannot be food for every man.  

What about seafood you may ask?  The thing with seafood is this, no matter how much of it I eat, I never get full.  I always find myself saying, "Boy that was a good, light lunch" after a seafood meal and it makes me feel like I was being good and healthy, which more often than not I'm not.  But two hours later I'm at a McDonald's drive through ordering a quarter pounder with cheese and a side of fries.  I don't ever get that feeling of fullness  and ultimately satisfaction from seafood though I love, love, love eating them.  Our Dad used to farm prawns and crabs in our province Bulacan and I'm telling you I can eat those babies by the kilo on my own. Also, if you didn't farm them like we did, the price is a bit prohibitive too.  Not as much as foie gras and wagyu, but prohibitive just the same which is compounded by the fact that you need to eat more of it to feel satisfied.  

And no I did not forget about chicken and other birds.  To borrow the words of Simon Cowell, if I'm being honest with you, I'm not a  huge fan.  If a chicken sang in front of me I would probably say something like "Please go back into your shell and develop some more." In fact, I think that the best thing that ever happened to chicken is KFC.  (Kids may argue and vote for Chicken Joy, but kids don't read this do they?) Yes I do make a pretty good version of curry, but if I had a craving for chicken-- which is not so very often, curry would not be on top of my list.  KFC more often than not does the trick.  In fact, come to think of it.  My cravings were not for chicken but for KFC chicken.  So no, my vote does not go to our feathered friends.  Sorry.

Which brings us back to our lowly yet lovely and affable Pig. You don't have to have Kurobota to enjoy it's meat.  It doesn't cost an arm and a leg to purchase and is readily available in your local butcher or market.  You could fry, roast, stew, braise or grill it.  You could bread it, dry it, grind it, smoke it or make it into sausages.  Every single part of the animal can be used and prepared in ways that would warm your bellies with a happy fullness and satisfaction sans the heaviness that the meat of cows bring.  It takes very simple ingredients and methods to make a memorable meal out of your common pig.  

Case in point is this recipe for my Oven-Crisped Lechon Belly.  It is a humble recipe that needs nothing more than three ingredients, a well chosen pork belly included.  It is an easy, foolproof (even for the hardened kitchen offenders) spatterless method that will consistently give you beautifully blistered, crunchy skin and juicy tender meat  glistening and basking in the glory of it's own rendered fat.  It will earn ooh, aaahs, hugs, kisses and more than that. 

My Oven-Crisped Lechon Belly   

1 Kilo Pork Belly, Skin-on/Bone-in
2 Tablespoons Rock Salt
Enough water to cover
  1. Clean pork belly. 
  2. Boil in water with salt until tender but not falling off the bone (around 40 mins.) 
  3. Drain whole pork belly and cool in a dry place. 
  4. Prick skin all over with a steel brush ( I bought mine in Divisoria.  It looks like a toothbrush with pins for bristles.)
  5. Put in a roasting rack and roast at 300 degrees until skin has perfectly blistered, usually another 40 minutes
If you want to roast a bigger belly, you may do so but as always, do adjust the salt and time of cooking.  This is a very basic recipe so you can experiment by trying to put stuff in the boiling liquid like lemongrass, onions, black pepper, star anise.  The result is somewhat similar to the flavor of Lechon Cebu.  But whatever you choose to add, don't add sugar as this will ultimately affect the crispiness of the skin. 

Like I said, I love the Pig.  I think maybe that after all the evil that escaped from Pandora's box, it was a little Pig and not Hope that was left in it,  speaking in it's wee voice a message from Dionysius himself and thereby bringing back  hope and everything that was good and worth living for in the world.  And even if that isn't accurate Greek mythology, I am sure that one bite from this recipe will have you call out the names of the gods in honest gratitude for letting such a beast escape from the heavens to grace our many tables here on earth.

17 August 2010

Thank You For the Music

There is music in the wind that moves and breathes in the spaces of my soul. It is a song that constantly rocks and cradles the skiff of my heart from one shore to another in the many journeys of my life. I would find myself in the midst of the most perplexing labyrinth, and it has always been music that clears my head and keeps me finding my way back to shore .  Its words are the rivers I follow knowing they always unite with the ocean where my boat  patiently awaits--like a tiny dancer frolicking with the waves as if calling me to set sail once more to another journey scheduled by destiny but written by me.   While children will always be the anchor that keep me from drifting where I should not be, it has always been music that keeps me sailing through the most wicked tempest  of the seas.  No.  Music is not just my refuge.  Music is my redemption.

Even when the house is still, as it is right this very moment, there is a musical score  playing in my head.  It is there whatever it is I am doing, wherever I am in my life.  And in the moments where I have no answers to the questions in my head, the volume of that musical score is multiplied by a factor of at least two.  With it I am able to stare at my  demons, my doubts and fears right in the eye.  And through it, I am able to slay them all.  Music makes me muster the courage I never even knew I had and pushes me to conquer things I never even dreamt I could.   It is the magical potion  more intoxicating than any mind altering substance man can ever invent. It can make you feel bigger than you really are faster than you can say Wonderland.  Chemical concoctions may reach the innermost crevices of ones mind, but only Music has the power to break into the deepest, darkest alleys of your soul.  Other things can make you forget, but Music-- Music will make you remember all the things you are. 

In my kitchen, where there is a constant humdrum of action, the fire in the stoves are further fanned by the fire of Music.  Generally though, during prep time, the soundtracks are either as aseptic and crisp as Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor or something as nerve-calming as Astrud Gilberto's haunting affectations.  The music is always the backdrop that frames all elements in its proper places-- ingredients and staff included.  During the actual cooking though, the music is hot, dirty and full of lust.  (No I don't play dirty raps or that idiotic song Birthday Sex).  Think something along the lines of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis jazz, the kind they play in smoke-filled parlors in some alley in New Orleans.  It's gotta be something with so much feeling and soul because that's what happens food meets fire.  That music and the sizzling, the hissing and the exaltation  from the sacrifice of the spirits of food--these are the only hymns heard throughout the kitchen at cooking time.  Well,  those and my voice telling everyone to shut up and pay attention to the process.  And Music does that to my attention-deficit mind.  It makes me see what I need to see and feel what I need to feel  in order to experience the process more vividly.  It doesn't matter if the experience was happening in the kitchen or in life as it unravels .  It doesn't matter whether the experience was something joyous like the birth of a child or something that makes me feel like jumping of the ledge (my friend).  Music is truly the exclamation point to every emotion I've ever had.  It makes me feel so much more alive.  

When I'm heartbroken, listening to stuff like My Immortal makes the pain so much more painful.  But when I am happy and I'm listening to Come On Eileen, the ride is so much happier and undoubtedly more interesting.  It's as if I am able to enlarge, underline and italicize the font of my life through music.  It makes the highs much higher and the lows so much lower which I realize is what life is,  as it happens-- a series  of beautifully timed ups and downs without which can literally transpose into living a flatlined life.  And if that isn't an oxymoron, then I don't know what is.

Life is not so redundant or scary with Music.  I find that the deeper I am into my story and my personal soundtrack the closer I am to actually finding Me. With its company I find that I am a little bit braver to live, to love.  After all it is in the living , the loving and the music  that I learned and am continuing to learn who I am. So I say Thank you for the Music, (all together now) for giving it to me.

05 August 2010

My Adobo

Theoretically speaking, recipes are formulas for success.  But in actuality, as you may very well know by now, they are not always so.  One can follow a recipe to the last milligram of salt and yet come up with something not even the dog would eat.  But do not dismay.  Just throw the anti-god particles of your stew and try making it again.  Anyway, it is possibly not your fault as some recipes are recipes for failure. Some recipes are just utterly unreliable.  However, and this is very sad, I find that the most unreliable recipes are those found in our local cookbooks.

I don't know if the writers meant to NOT share their true measurements or if the quality of locally made products (like soy sauce, patis (fish sauce)) are so diverse that choosing one over the other adversely affects the outcome of any particular culinary experiment.  For example, when I was starting to cook, I wanted to make Adobo because it was , after all, our national dish (which I think they changed to Sinigang as of late) and I thought with less than 5 ingredients, it would be easy enough to experiment on.  I followed the recipe from a cookbook I borrowed to the last drop of soy sauce only to be completely shattered that the adobo turned out to be unforgivably salty and to my utter dismay, completely inedible.   To redeem myself, I tried making Beef Calderetta following the recipe from the same cookbook and that made me even more amateurish (which I actually was at this point) and depressed as it turned out too sour.  The book has been burned since. Really.  

But the inaccurate measurements were not limited to that book alone.  I was gifted with another local cookbook, this time one for baking which of course I eventually checked out.  I experimented on making Filipinized Pound cake and the result was  such a travesty of a cake that the Roadrunner could have used it to stupefy the always unsuspecting Wile E. Coyote by dropping it off a cliff. It came to a point that I stopped cooking Filipino and proceeded to cooking more continental dishes.  In fact, I had perfected my Lasagna Bolognese way before my Adobo resembled anything remotely edible.

So because of this, and also because Linggo ng Wika is happening sometime very soon, I am sharing my very reliable and always successful Basic Adobo recipe  with high hopes that your success in making this will inspire you to cook more meals for your loved ones .  And  the reason I say this recipe is very reliable and always successful is because the measurements are completely customizable to your own taste and to whatever kind of vinegar you have at home because the quality and kinds are so diverse.  I prefer to use locally made coconut vinegar from the province and not those found in the grocery which could pass off as toilet bowl cleaners.   Mine actually comes from Bicol which is brought in by our Yaya (bless her) who has been in our employ for the past 12 years.  But if you are not as fortunate as I am and do not have a patient Yaya who hand carries gallons of vinegar from their province, you may want to try Arengga Vinegar or Sukang Iloko.  Just adjust the measurements.  My brand of soy sauce is plain, ole Silver Swan.  My secret is to ALWAYS taste the "vinaigrette" before you put in your meat of choice.  If using chicken alone, do not add water.  If with pork, I like using the belly and I add a fourth of a cup of water to the mixture below.  If making CPA (Chicken-Pork Adobo)  I cook the belly ahead by 15 minutes before dropping off the rest of the chicken.  Here's the recipe good for one kilo of meat:

Basic Adobo for Dummies or First Time Cooks
1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
3 Tablespoons Vinegar of Choice
1 Teaspoon Whole Black Peppercorns
Garlic (as much or as you like)
5 Bay leaves-crumbled
Pinch of salt
  1. Put everything together and TASTE.  Adjust accordingly.  Some like their Adobo      more sour than salty, so do adjust.  Mine is like a tug-of-war of salty and sour.
  2. Pour in a non-reactive saucepan and add in meat of choice.
  3. Cook covered in medium heat without mixing until it has boiled.
  4. After it has boiled, you may mix it then lower the heat to the lowest possible and       cook covered until everything is of a melts-in-the-mouth texture.
You may serve it at this point or, you can separate the meat from the sauce, fry it to make it crispy on the outside but still sticky in the inside and then pour the strained sauce over it when serving so it looks a little more, uhm, sosyal.  This is what they call Twice-cooked Adobo (as seen in picture above).  It can also be flaked then fried to a crisp to make Adobo Flakes.  It can be made without Soy Sauce and then it would called Adobong Puti which was how it was done prior to the arrival of our Chinese neighbors. Throw in a couple of slices of Turmeric  or Luyang Dilaw and it will be called Adobo sa Dilaw.  If you put some Annatto or Atsuwete Oil in it and pork  or chicken liver, it will be Batangas Style Adobo.  Add some coconut cream and it will be Adobo sa Gata. 

I love Adobo of any form, color and texture.  You can make it soupy, dry or fried twice. It could be bright orange, caramel brown or purely white. I'll love it just the same.  Smelling the heady brew cooking in my kitchen always makes me want to sing the National Anthem with much love and pride for I think no other aroma can be so distinctly  and deliciously Filipino.  May the aroma of this Adobo fill your home and bring you fond memories of our beautiful , beautiful country, the Philippines, wherever you are in the world.  Enjoy!

*Photo taken by Oliver Zapanta of Lumen8 Studio
  Styling by Vanessa Zapanta of Thema