New England Clam Chowder

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There’s just something about the taste of clam soup that hits the spot. It doesn’t need a lot of coaxing to get the distinct flavor out of the clams – the rich flavor of the sea ignites the bones. My city is a city that gets to supply the rest of the country with canned sardines, since fishermen have direct access to the sea. Clams, along with a variety of fish and shellfish are always abundant in the seafood markets.

I like my clams baked, or made into a simple soup with tomatoes, kangkong or chili leaves. But last Sunday, for mother’s day, I decided to go the extra mile and make it into a chowder – “New England” Clam Chowder.
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The main difference between New England and Manhattan Clam Chowder is the cooking liquid used. New England uses cream or milk to flavor the clam broth, while Manhattan uses tomato sauce. One of my favorite restaurants serves this really delicious seafood chowder that carries the strong flavor of clam, and Mother’s Day was the perfect excuse to relive the taste again.

This isn’t really ‘New England’ to the letter because I didn’t have the crackers to thicken this. But adding bread crumbs to thicken this more can be a good idea…in the same way I like my lechon sauce really thick. Lechon. Lechon. God I’m hungry again. I’ll probably have my fill of lechon soon, but for now, I’m happy remembering the moment I had the first spoonful of the finished product. It was immaculate.
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Clam Chowder (serves 5 – 6)

Feel free to thicken it more with crackers, cornstarch, flour or even bread crumbs. This has a hint of thickness thanks to the flour but it doesn’t tread the lines of being gravy-ish, which I really like. 

  • 30 pieces clams, scrubbed and cleaned
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large white onions, cubed
  • 4 – 5 medium-sized potatoes, sliced into small cubes
  • 2 medium-sized carrots, sliced into small cubes
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 1  piece hungarian sausage, sliced, then each slice halved
  • 6 – 7 cups water
  • 1 300g can cream (I used Nestle)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • sliced spring onions for garnish
  1. In a large stockpot over medium heat, add the oil and butter and allow it to melt.
  2. Add the onions and sauté until limp. Add the carrots and potatoes. Mix well and sauté for around 3 – 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and mix well.
  3. Add the water, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and allow to simmer, for about 8 – 10 minutes.
  4. When the water is beginning to boil, lower the heat and add the cream. Mix well. Add the hungarian sausage.
  5. Add the clams and cover so the clams can cook, around 3 – 5 minutes.
  6. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.
  7. When the potatoes and carrots are cooked through, remove from heat. Serve in individual bowls and garnish with spring onions. Enjoy!

Pancit Guisado

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There’s no excuse for it, so I might as well just put it out there: I’ve been deliberately avoiding my blog. I haven’t been in the kitchen for a while, my posting schedule is pretty much zilch, and…well, I didn’t really care. I think, or at least I’d like to believe that every writer/blogger has gone through a period where…inspiration isn’t really there. You feel parched, tired and done for. Does that sound familiar?

A few things first:

1. I finished reading The Millennium trilogy (ie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels) and, I am experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Stieg Larsson just has this ability to draw you in, and I was sucked into a ‘happy’ black hole for a while, hence I took a respite from hardcore writing.

2. My barbecue craving hasn’t abated yet, so watch out for more barbecue dishes soon! (If the grilled pieces of pork and chicken haven’t been the death of me yet!)

3. At least three people wanted to send me herbs, but since international shipping is pricey, it’ll only remain a dream. This is still an invitation to any Filipino living in the Philippines, who might be interested in helping a fella out. (wink)

Anyway, am I back in motion? Hopefully. If there’s one thing I learned from my retreat, it’s that hope is a powerful word. So here I am, hoping for the best.

April rolled by and the first day of May came as a surprise for me. The Kulinarya Club holds a monthly challenge with a specific theme, and strangely enough I only knew of the April theme when the other members started posting their works. It turns out the notice got lost in the mail, so before I jump into the May challenge, here is my attempt at ‘Filipino Food Truck Fare’, brought to you by Louie and Nathan. The premise is that food from a food truck is portable and easy-to-eat, since apparently food trucks have a huge following in the US.
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When I was reviewing for my boards, the university’s newly renovated two-story cafeteria was opened. It was a far cry from the two small cramped canteens that served the entire campus. The cafeteria now had a reasonable number of food stalls that served ‘decent’ to ‘great’ food, depending on what stall you choose to buy from. There’s this one stall that serves ‘great’ dimsum – siomai (steamed or friend), rolls,  and fried rice and noodles. I go there for the siomai and the noodles, or sometimes both, because if I order the friend noodles, there’s always a siomai or two resting on top.

Observing how they put together the fried noodles is pretty straightforward. Pre-boiled/softened egg noodles have been measured and placed in small individual plastic containers. When somebody orders, all they have to do is get a container, dump the noodles on the pan with oil, then add a little bit of what I assume to be a soy sauce mixture, mix it all together, place it in a small serving bowl, and top it with siomai. That method can easily mesh with the whole dynamic of a food truck, because it’s easy and makes so much sense.
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I tried to bring back that ‘noodle love’ by making a simplified version of pancit guisado. Guisado in our context means ‘sautéed‘, and there’s a lot of it going on here. This is Chinese-Filipino happiness on a plate. The taste actually reminds me of the pancit canton of a popular fast food chain here in the Philippines that may or may not be called Chowking.

Oh, and we didn’t have any cardboard takeout boxes, so for a moment, let’s just imagine these ceramic bowls are light as a feather.
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Pancit Guisado (serves 1 – 2)

  • 100 grams dried pancit canton noodles
  • 5 – 6 pieces medium-sized prawns (deveined, head and shell removed), each sliced into 3 – 4 small pieces
  • half a medium-sized carrot, sliced thinly
  • 100 – 150 grams pork belly, sliced into bite sized cubes
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • half a garlic bulb, minced
  • 2 small red onions, sliced
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • spring onions, sliced, for garnish
  1. Cook the noodles in a pot of boiling water. The noodles may cook fast, around 1 – 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Cook the pork pieces by placing it in a frying pan and adding the water. Let the water boil and cook the pork until the water dries up, pork starts to toast, and fat begins to render. Add the 1/4 cup soy sauce and cook until tender. Set aside.
  3. In a pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions. Saute until fragrant. Add the carrots and fry until slightly tender.
  4. Add the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and the prawns. Mix everything together and cook until prawns are pink, around a minute or two. Add the pork belly and noodles.
  5. Mix everything together and fry for another 30 seconds. When done, remove from pan and serve in individual bowls or in a takeout box for that full effect. Garnish with the spring onions and serve. Enjoy!

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Salt and Vinegar Grilled Pork

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It’s 8 in the evening, and here I am, thinking about what I ate for lunch. And I’m hungry. I’m not sure if this is entirely psychological or somatic, or a little bit of both, but yeah, I can say that my tummy’s rumbling. It’s all in my head. It’s all in my head….

Let me make a confession: while I was on my retreat, I caught myself thinking about what I’m going to eat when I’m done with the silence. Don’t get me wrong, the Jesuits served filling, really really great meals, but I was craving. The craving for salty-sour grilled pork was so bad.

When we were in Dipolog-Dapitan a week ago, prior to my retreat, we went to their boulevard for dinner, and there, we were greeted by a proverbial barbecue mecca. There were rows and rows, stall upon stall of skewered anything – pork, chicken, chorizo, innards, even tocino! All you had to do was point or pick the meat, and they’ll grill it. I’ll devote a post to that, but as a prelude – I have been imprinted with this lingering obsession with barbecue. Hence, this post.
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Sweet or sour? That question profoundly affected me. For real. Would I ‘try’ to recreate the sweet smoky my taste buds were treated to when I was on vacation? Or would a more rough and tumble salty-sour taste pique my cravings even more? After careful deliberation – the taste of sweet grilled pork would have to wait. Salty-sour ruled the day.

I’d have to say grilling pork marinated in salt, pepper and vinegar is easier to manage. Because there’s not much sugar in it, it doesn’t burn as fast as when you grill pork with a soy sauce, ketchup and sugar marinade. But if you’re like me, I like a hint of sweetness, so a tablespoon or two of brown sugar does the trick.
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Memories associated with the sensation of eating salty-sour grilled pork would have to be with my family at the beach. We would buy the pork on the way, then grill it as soon as we arrive. The nuances are there: sometimes we only rub it with salt and pepper, then the vinegar becomes the dipping sauce, together with soy sauce (toyo), onions, garlic and tomatoes. But whichever way it’s been cooked, it always leaves us full, happy, and bathing in the sun.

So sour it is. And honestly, my cravings have been satisfied. But tomorrow’s another day, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be planning the next time I’ll grill again. I can’t wait (!)
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Salt and Vinegar Grilled Pork (serves 6 – 8)

2 kg pork belly, sliced 1 ½ inch thick

Marinade:

  • 1 cup white cane vinegar
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons brown sugar, optional
  • 3 tablespoons patis/fish sauce

Dipping Sauce

  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup Knorr liquid seasoning
  • 1 whole garlic bulb, minced
  • A dash of red pepper flakes
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons white cane vinegar, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar, or to taste
  1. Combine the marinade ingredients.
  2. Add the pork and make it is thoroughly coated with it. Marinate it overnight, turning once, after a few hours.
  3. Grill the pork on each side until golden brown, with grill marks. Make sure the meat does not burn. The time it takes for you to grill depends on how hot the grill is.
  4. When done, remove from grill and let rest for a few minutes. Slice into bite-sized pieces and serve with rice and dipping sauce. Enjoy!
  5. Make the dipping sauce: over medium heat, add oil in a small saucepan. Add garlic and toast lightly. Add red pepper flakes and toast for a few seconds. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust taste to your liking. Remove from heat and serve with the grilled pork.

Emperor’s Beef Stew

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I’m halfway done with The Girl Who Played With Fire, a novel with as much grit as the first novel that I’m left dumbfounded how I never picked up the series earlier. Suffice to say I have time on my hands, because Mindanao (the large island in the Philippines where my city, Zamboanga, is located) has been going through a power crisis that has apparently pushed it a few hundred steps backwards and into the dark ages, literally. When I’m not doing anything productive (which is most of the time), I read.

And I’m enjoying this laziness a lot – too much apparently that I’m relying on spontaneity to determine what to cook and what to blog about. Time is definitely divided, and I’m actually pretty glad I don’t have to fuss over this little blog too much. Not that fussing over something is inherently bad – but in my case, it has sometimes been counterproductive and counterintuitive.
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Have you ever used a pressure cooker?

(My off-tangent paragraph flow construction amazes me)

I’ve recently made friends with it. Usually it’s my dad who uses it and he always talks about how improper usage will literally kill you. No joke. According to him, opening it without releasing the pressure will apparently cause an explosion. I’ve been perusing youtube for evidence to support his claim, but I realized that even if that were true, I’m not stupid enough to mishandle it in any way.
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The point is, because I fear for my life – that little noisy spindle on top of the pressure cooker lid needs to be lifted in order to release the pressure before I open it. Because the heat is scalding, I use tongs to lift the spindle. I haven’t died yet.

The pressure cooker does wonders to soften tough cuts of meat. We usually use it to soften beef in less than an hour. I had a surplus of beef shanks that were used for soup last Sunday. I was thinking of making it into Osso Buco, but a little Del Monte recipe postcard latched onto our fridge door by ref magnets caught my eye. It seemed easy enough, and I wanted to get back to my reading as soon as possible, so I decided to give it a try. Osso Buco would have to wait.
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The stew itself is savory and hearty, with hints of rice wine, hoisin, soy, and oyster sauce. The sweetness from the pineapples (It’s a Del Monte recipe after all) tempers the saltiness, resulting in something that’s almost like ‘endulsado’ (pork stewed/cooked in soy sauce and sugar), but not quite there yet. That’s a good thing, because endulsado can be cloyingly sweet.

This stew doesn’t need to beg to be wolfed down; it’s just natural to help yourself to a few more servings. Well, at least that’s what I did. I’m not ashamed.
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Emperor’s Beef Stew (serves 4 – 6)

  • ½ cup chopped white onions
  • Half a garlic bulb, minced
  • 1 to 2 pieces dried laurel/bay leaves
  • Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
  • 1 to 1 ½   kg beef shanks, cooked and softened in a pressure cooker (make sure to read manufacturer’s instructions)
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • A scant ¼ cup rice wine or gin
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 2 pouches Del Monte Pineapple tidbits (115 grams each)
  1.  In a pot large enough to hold the beef, sauté onions, garlic, bay leaves and pepper in oil. Add the beef and sauté until lightly brown.
  2. Add oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine and water. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes to soften the beef more.
  3. Add the pineapple tidbits with the syrup and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and serve warm with rice. Enjoy!

Breaded Pork Cutlet with Pineapple-Lychee Sauce

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This week was a blur. After we were done with the Easter celebration, everyday felt like a strange shift back to monotony and admittedly, I purposely ignored posting anything new. When I didn’t have anything else better to do, before I started this blog, and especially during the summer, I’d read a good book. I surmise that no matter how old I’d be, I’ll always be a devoted consumer of children’s fiction.

But I really don’t think I can consider The Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for starters) children’s fiction. No, no, no. It’s peppered with all sorts of things that, well, aren’t safe for work. But I really enjoyed reading it, probably because it’s a brilliant, intricate yet incredibly straightforward crime novel and I haven’t really immersed myself in that realm yet.

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So yeah, my week was filled with amble reading moments, and I think I needed that. But during the moments in-between reading, I remember that I had to feed myself too. And without a lot of intricate preparation, I managed to whip up something decent. Scratch that, it isn’t just decent…it’s really good.

This is just the standard breaded pork, which really becomes more flavorful if you let the meat marinate in vinegar, garlic and sugar (yes, sugar), overnight.

But now we come to the issue of the sauce. Sure, the standard soy sauce-vinegar-calamansi dipping sauce is a winner, but it was when I read the book Asian Dumplings that I found a little gold nugget. Towards the end of her book, Andrea Nguyen shares recipes for sauces commonly partnered with dumplings and beyond. One of which, she calls ‘Sweet and Sour Sauce’, but her description is far from the mental image that I know is sweet and sour sauce. The bottled kind is…reddish-orange, ketchup-y, slightly translucent.

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This one is (in her words) “a rich dark honey color, this tart-sweet-savory sauce does not resemble the cloying, sticky, bright red sauce that’s often served at Chinese restaurants.” She also hints that this can be a blank canvas for other flavors – tropical (use canned pineapple juice instead of water) and/or spicy (add ginger and chili to the mix).

What’s more tropical than pineapple? pineapple-lychee of course! But don’t count pine-orange or pine-mango out, because as of writing this, now I understand why this sauce is definitely a blank canvas.  I was sold.

(And….I’m about to read The Girl Who Played With Fire. Time is definitely divided.)

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Breaded Pork (serves 4 – 6)

1 kg pork chops or belly (if using belly, ask the butcher to slice it into uniform pieces 5 – 6 inches long)

Marinade:

  • ½ cup white cane vinegar
  • Half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Breading

  • Flour
  • 1 – 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Salt or liquid seasoning (Maggi or Knorr)
  • Breadcrumbs
  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl or Tupperware and add in the pork. Mix well and leave in the refrigerator preferably overnight.
  2. When ready to fry, set-up a dipping station using 3 shallow dishes. In the first dish, add flour enough to coat the pork.  Begin with around ½ cup, adding a few tablespoons more when needed. Season the flour with salt and pepper. In the second dish, lightly beat the egg. It’s best to start with one egg, then if it runs out, beat in another one. Add a pinch of salt or a few drops of liquid seasoning. In the third dish, add the breadcrumbs.
  3. Using tongs, dredge both sides of the pork with the flour. Then dip both sides in the egg. Lastly, coat both sides with the breadcrumbs.
  4. Over medium-low to medium heat, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a nonstick pan. When the oil is glistening, add the pork pieces. You may need to work in batches, 2 or 3 at a time, depending on the size of the pan. Do not overcrowd the pan. Fry each side for around 8 – 10 minutes or until breading turns golden brown.

Sweet and Sour Sauce (makes 1 cup)

  • ¼ cup lightly packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar (any kind)
  • ½ cup pineapple-lychee juice (Dole or Del Monte)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
  1. Combine the sugar, salt, ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar and water in a small saucepan.
  2. Bring to a near boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Give the cornstarch a stir and then add it to the pan. Continue cooking,  stirring, for about 15 seconds, or until the sauce comes to a full boil and thickens.
  4. Remove from heat, transfer to a serving bowl, and set aside for 10 minutes to cool and concentrate in flavor.
  5. Taste and add extra salt, if needed. Serve warm or at room temperature. Feel free to prepare this sauce a day in advance.

Tonkatsu

Bringhe

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Grandma burst into song at lunch today. After lengthily praying, she burst into song – clapping while singing “This is the Day”. Look it up, I’m not singing it.

Mom was hiding silent giggles, uncle kept mouthing under his breath that he’s hungry, while I couldn’t really hide the fact that I was pleasantly amused. That doesn’t usually happen over lunch. She’s like that, my grandmother. It’s been an inside joke among family members that her lack of comedic timing makes her that more amusing. One time, during a party that we had at their place, with guests in tow, she burst into tears and extended the prayer before meals after my grandfather said his spiel.
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The amusement that happened over lunch offset whatever antsy feelings I had prior. I was flipping out because from my end, lunch almost never happened. We don’t have set Easter traditions, we don’t have Easter bunnies and eggs; it’s usually only a celebratory lunch and dinner. I decided to make two dishes – bringhe and roasted chicken.

Bringhe is a rice dish from Northern Luzon (specifically Pampanga), similar to arroz valenciana and paella, but the liquid used to cook the rice is a mixture of water and coconut milk, and it has a characteristic yellow color because of the turmeric. Think curry rice, without the curry. Roast chicken is, well, roast chicken.  I marinated it in soy sauce, vinegar, rosemary and lemongrass.
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Time wasn’t on my side that day. While I was in the kitchen, I kept glancing at the clock, mentally kicking myself for being a hot mess. I thought I started on time, but in my head there was still so much to do. We brought out the turbo broiler for the first time, hoping that it’ll do wonders with the chicken. At 11:00 AM, we discovered that the broiler had failed us. The chickens were barely warm even after preheating and cooking for at least 30 minutes. I felt like I was on a pressure test and something was about to spell my elimination. I quickly grabbed a roasting pan and the chickens by the neck (sorry, chickens) and hastily preheated the oven. But even I knew they would never make it for lunch.
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I cursed a bit, and resigned at the fact that something did go totally awry. I went back to the stove, telling myself that I probably burned the bringhe as well.

I opened the pot, steam wafted out and enveloped me for a nanosecond, and there it was. It was like a veil was lifted over me. I can tell. I can tell it was on its way to perfection with the broth slowly but surely being absorbed by the rice. I grabbed a spoon and took a bite of the rice. It was cooked (edible!). I didn’t break into song number, but I was happy. I will have something on the table at lunchtime. It felt like everything just fell into place. The timing was perfect.
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Grandma just finished her song, was a little bit emotional partly because my cousin lacks proper etiquette (that’s another story), and we dig in. The roast chicken is biding its time in the oven, and it’ll obviously be ready before dinner. There’s pancit bihon, dinuguan and of course, the bringhe. We were somehow together (dad was away and grandpa retired way too early), and I realized that I made a mountain out of a molehill.
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Today is Easter Sunday, the day hope was returned to us and a promise was fulfilled. There was darkness, but through it all, He lives. Jesus coming back from the dead can mean a lot of things, but I believe it means that God is stronger than pain, suffering and hopelessness. I try to pray because I believe I’m inadequate without Him. During lunch today, He sat with us and brought me back from whatever “death” had fallen upon me. I have a lot to be thankful for, Grandma kept repeating that.

I couldn’t agree more.
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Happy Easter everyone!

Beringhe/Bringhe (adapted from Inquirer Lifestyle)

  • ¾ kg chicken leg and thighs, sliced into serving pieces
  • ¾ kg pork belly or shoulder, cut into cubes
  • 150 g chicken liver and/or gizzard
  • 1 cup regular rice
  • 1 cup sticky rice (malagkit)
  • 2 tablespoons Star margarine
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 whole head garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • 2 tablespoons patis, or more, to taste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup coconut milk (I used a 200 ml tetra pack; go ahead and use the fresh kind if you can)
  • 1 cup green peas
  • 1 carrot, sliced into strips
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced into small squares
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced into small squares
  • 8 pieces Vienna sausage, sliced into halves diagonally (I used Libby’s)
  • 2 eggs, hard-boiled
  • 1½ c raisins, for garnish (optional; I didn’t like adding raisins so I didn’t use this)
  1. In a large pan, add the chicken and pork and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Generously season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and allow the water to evaporate and the meat to cook. Allow for the fat the render and stir to lightly toast the meat. Do not allow to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Combine regular rice and sticky rice and wash three times under running water. Set aside.
  3. Heat the Star margarine in a wide casserole, large pot or a paellera.
  4. Sauté onion until wilted. Add garlic and sauté until golden brown.
  5. Add turmeric and patis and stir in the chicken liver or gizzard. Add the pork and chicken. Cover and simmer for a minute.
  6. Add water and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Let boil around one minute, then add the two kinds of rice, distributing evenly around the pan. You may want to give the pan/pot a few through stirs. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until rice is fully cooked and has almost absorbed all the liquid, around 15-20 minutes.
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  7. When the rice is cooked through but there is still some liquid on the surface, add peas, carrots, bell peppers and Vienna sausage. Stir lightly to incorporate and cover for 3 – 5 more minutes, cooking over low heat.
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  8. Garnish with sliced hard-boiled eggs and raisins, if desired. Serve warm. Enjoy!

Pancit Palabok

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I did not grow up eating palabok. Pancit bihon or sotanghon would usually be part of our party staple, not palabok. In fact, I could consider palabok an incredibly unorthodox addition to a buffet spread.

It was in college that my appreciation for palabok really grew. Tucked away at the back of the university where I used to study at, there’s this little resto called Flavourite. It’s practically an institution here in Zamboanga, with branches around town. It’s known for its reasonably priced home cooked dishes, the burgers and of course, the palabok. I think it would be an understatement when I say that their palabok is delicious. In fact, if somebody would ask me what a great palabok is supposed to taste like, I would describe it along the lines of Flavourite’s version.
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“Miki, pork”, is my usual order. Palabok noodles can either use miki, (round or flat egg noodles), or bihon (thin strands of rice noodles). I enjoy eating it with miki. And since I have no aversion to pork, I don’t see any reason it shouldn’t be pork.
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The thick, gravy-like sauce is curiously orange. Before I read about the process of making it, I’ve always wondered what it’s made of. Of course, all of that curiosity vanishes with the first slurp. The taste is peculiar as well. It’s slightly salty, more than anything else. But it still lays the perfect stage to showcase the hotchpotch of toppings.
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I understand that toppings are probably as diverse as the regions of the Philippines, from all-meat, to seafood, but like I said, Flavourite is my benchmark (So if you want to point me to a plate of palabok that rocked your world, drop me a line!) The palabok is topped with little tofu cubes, chicharon (pork crackling), mashed adobo and if I’m not mistaken, pork floss.

Flavourite is so old-school they don’t have a website, not even a facebook page. It makes sense; through the years it has sustained itself well without any gimmicks. So to understand my enthusiasm, if and when you’re in our little city of Zamboanga, please, check it out.
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In the meantime, here’s my take on their palabok – with a few topping modifications. The real work is in making the sauce; the rest of the toppings can just be put together at the last-minute. But I’d like to think it was so good that after a few hours the big pot of sauce was polished clean, and the noodles long gone.

And I like it so much I don’t mind it with calamansi, my archenemy. Palabok does that to you.
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Pancit Palabok (serves 6 – 8)

Some miki noodles have been pre-salted already, so exercise caution when seasoning the sauce, tasting as you go along.

2 500-gram packs miki (egg noodles; the ones that I used were bundled but already soft and ready to use, with a shelf-life of only 3 days)

Sauce:

  • At least 8 – 10 medium-sized prawns, head and shell intact, but with barbs (the rostrum) and whiskers snipped
  • 3 – 4 cups water to cook the prawns
  • 1 30-gram pack annatto/atsuete seeds
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil

Seasoning:

  • 2 tablespoons patis/fish sauce, or more to taste
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 pork broth cubes, or more to taste
  • Cornstarch slurry: 6 – 8 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 cup warm water

Toppings:

  • ¼ kilo pork belly, sliced into small cubes
  • Pork chicharon, crumbled
  • Spring onions, cleaned and sliced thinly
  • Napa cabbage/Chinese pechay, cleaned and sliced into strips
  • 5 – 8 hard-boiled eggs, sliced in half
  1. Over medium heat, boil prawns in a pot with the water. When thoroughly orange all over, turn off the heat.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, remove the prawns and place in a bowl. Allow to cool. Reserve the water for use later.
  3. Meanwhile, in a pan, add the pork with enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Cook over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. Allow the water to evaporate and the pork’s fat to render. Sauté the pork in its own fat until lightly toasted.
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  4. Peel the prawns and remove the heads. Place all the prawn heads in a mortar and using the pestle (the heavy bat shaped object), pound the prawn heads until juices have been released and the mixture looks “pulpy”.
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  5. Place everything in the pot of water that was used to boil the prawns and mix everything together.
  6. In a small pot, make the atsuete oil by heating the vegetable oil over medium heat and adding the atsuete seeds. Toast until fragrant and the oil takes on a shade of dark orange.
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  7. Add the oil to the shrimp water, together with the seeds. Mix everything together and let the color bleed into the soup, leave for 3 – 5 minutes. You will want a slightly dark yellow-orange colored liquid.
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  8. Run the mixture through a sieve and into a slightly larger pot.  Heat the pot over medium heat. Add around 1 – 2 more cups water. Season with salt and pepper. Add the broth cubes and the fish sauce, starting with 2 cubes and 2 tablespoons, respectively. Add more if desired.
  9. When it starts to simmer, add the cornstarch slurry. Allow to boil, stirring frequently. Adjust taste and consistency to your liking. I personally want a liquid that’s thick and gravy-like, which may need more of the slurry, or not – it’s your call.
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  10. Place the miki noodles in a bowl of hot water to wash and soften it. Drain.
  11. Put everything together: In a plate, place a generous mound of noodles. Ladle an equally generous amount of sauce. Add the toppings (toasted pork belly, sliced spring onions and Napa cabbage, shrimps, hard-boiled egg) and sprinkle with the crumbled chicharon. Serve with calamansi on the side. Enjoy!