The Black Pig

Suggesting that we try a restaurant in Alabang to celebrate a few occasions was really born out of this feeling I had at the time to just wind-down and escape. Yes, it’s a watered-down concept I know. The three of us (Yedy, Euge and I) are car-less and from the north, so it was going to be a challenge. At least going there on a Sunday isn’t as much of a pain as a weekday trek. The Black Pig was waiting, and we were hungry.
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It’s a bar and restaurant that serves a slew of things, from charcuterie to Holgate beers. It has impressive industrial interiors. But we chose to dine al fresco. The light was so good and it was pretty windy. It was a golden day.

Breaking bread to signal the start of the meal is never a bad thing. And they have good bread.
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The charcuterie board arrives. We order it because it would be such a shame if we didn’t. Across the board (pun intended), the cured meats are all flavorful but the larger lomo, without the waxiness of the smaller cuts, stands out.
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Being a bar, they offer a selection of beers. They have a good sampler, aptly called Beer Flight. If that’s not poetic enough, let me just say that the Road Trip is my hands down favorite. At that point I was tempted to order more beer, but we had meals to devour.
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Pork, beef and fish were in attendance at the table. The pork belly came with marrow. Writing this, it’s hard to be impartial if fat’s the subject. The same goes for the rib-eye. And although pork belly and marrow is a killer combo (literally), it’s the medium-rare rib-eye that steals the show. The gindara is a close second though, because it just crumbles in your mouth. It’s so delicate. Delicate.
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The desserts are a sight to behold. It does my heart good to see playfulness and whimsy in their plated desserts.
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“Which one should we start with?”, I asked one of the owners who stepped in and explained the desserts. She reasoned that we should start with the lighter fare and work our way down to the heavier options. I pursed my lips. So, we were starting with the calamansi crème brulee. Close friends know my extreme, unreasonable aversion to calamansi (and now you do too!) so my excitement was barely a simmer. I let my curiosity override my hesitation though. I was a man on a mission.

It seemed haute enough (also unusual) – complete with sorbet, foam and a tuile peppered with fennel. I use the little spoon to mix everything together, cutting through the custard and into the curd.
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I sample a spoonful and nod my head. It takes a few seconds for me to process that it’s actually pretty good. Very impressive, even. The fennel seeds add pops of depth to a tangy, but refreshing custard. Calamansi never looked this sexy.

Trying the coconut panna cotta after the crème brulee was a disservice to the panna cotta, because it felt as if it paled in comparison. It’s still refreshing, with the mandatory addition of pineapple granite, but I should have eaten this first.
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The rum baba was a slap of alcohol neatly tucked into a yeast cake. As it should be. It wasn’t my cup of tea though. I’d assume that the chocolate praline, a geometric love song to chocolate from the wafer to the ganache, is their flagship dessert. And it’s chocolate, and its execution is in a way faultless. But the nuances of the calamansi crème brulee stole my heart and made me smile.

All things considered, the people behind The Black Pig do their job well. It’s a great place. Nothing mind-blowingly ground-breaking (kids, this isn’t a proper adjective) but the food is good, and in the case of the steak, gindara and the desserts, very delicious.

There might be some leeway for comparison to other similar restaurants. In some ways, you might be partial to the fare elsewhere. But with The Black Pig, Alabang has it good.

Pork Belly Lechon

When I was back home, I constantly reminded myself of my schedule. I may or may not leave so soon, I realized. There was really no fixed date, no pressing matter to attend to.

Then came the invitation for dinner, around a week after Jad’s funeral. We (my friends/classmates) haven’t really had a chance to talk about things out in the open. The situation was a delicate one. But the dinner had to happen. Naturally, I hosted it, and played the part of the cook. It’s a part I like to play because I think cooking for people who matter is on the list of things that feed my soul.

I didn’t want it to be complicated. My dinners have never tried to be uptight and I want it to stay that way. I love my people, and maybe that helps.

And I love pork. Strokes of brilliance on this blog have always involved pork, one way or the other. When I was thinking about what to prepare for dinner, a glorious way to feast on pork was on my mind.

And this, my friends, is glorious (if I do say so myself).
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Porchetta was on my mind when I was preparing my list. I’ve always wanted to make it, and I did get a chance to witness how it’s done when I was in school. But I also found myself craving for lechon while I was home. Mom would relent and come home with a small package of chopped up pig for me. That may have happened more than once.

I thought about taking a nice slab of pork belly and drowning it in the typical lechon aromatics (minus the calamansi because I don’t like it). Roasting it on low for a few hours makes it dastardly fork-tender, and during the last hour of baking, cranking the heat up will yield a crackling so divine.

The result blew me away. There is no breakthrough, no secret technique, no new flavor. I just made damn good lechon, and that for me, was a new notch in my belt. And if I’m being corny here, I’d like to call it “pinoychetta”. I’m also clever like that.
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All in all, I had two more attempts just to prove the first one wasn’t a fluke. The first one was a trial-run (my mom and her office mates were the lucky ones). The second was for the dinner, and the last was the big bang before I left.

The dinner itself was great. They loved the pork. Because they’re my friends, naturally they had to sing praises.
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They were fed well, we talked until we had no more stories to tell, and one of my friends, Jam, received a birthday cake a week early. It was a heavy chocolate cake with coffee buttercream, studded with shards of almond praline. I didn’t bring my piping tips so I was rubbish with the rosettes, but they liked it.

It was also passed around for posterity and the July babies went nuts. Somehow bearing the brunt of loss seemed lighter, even just for a night. I haven’t laughed so hard in a while.

So this pork is a thing of beauty. It’s not something you would whip up on a weeknight (but I’m not stopping you!). Reserve a weekend. Prepare this on Saturday, wake up early on Sunday to start roasting it. By lunchtime, you feast and the next day, you fast.
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Roasted Pork Belly “Lechon”

  • 1.5 kg pork belly slab, skin on
  • 3 whole garlic bulbs, peeled and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup oregano leaves, washed then chopped
  • 3 red onions, peeled and chopped
  • around 4 – 5 lemongrass stalks, sliced
  • the zest from 1 lemon
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • a little over 1/8 cup salt, plus more for an even rub around the pork
  • 4 tablespoons crushed black pepper

Combine all the aromatics in a bowl and mix well. Lightly mash everything together with the back of a spoon. Alternatively, use a food processor to bring everything together with only around 2-3 pulses.

With the skin side down, rub the mixture all over the meat. Roll the slab, carefully invert the meat and secure it with butcher’s twine (and lemongrass leaves, like what I did). It’s okay if there are a few pieces of herbs that fall off, you can place it back later. Rub coarse salt all over the meat, including the skin. With a paring knife or fork, poke the skin of the meat. This will ensure a nice crackling. Transfer it to a roasting fitted with a rack and the bottom lined with foil. Place it in the refrigerator to chill overnight. This will dry the skin, which helps the crackling form.
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variation: this will easily feed two – three

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Just to be sure, pat the skin of the pork dry with a paper towel. Roast the pork for 5 hours. Afterwards, increase the temperature to 220 C, and allow the pork’s crackling to form. This will take another 30 minutes to an hour. When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before slicing. Enjoy!
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These ribs are real

One of the reasons why I think Big Daddy Jay’s is a favorite right off the bat is the in-your-face, unapologetic scent of barbecue that makes the residential area where it’s at even more homey. It’s a welcome respite, a stone’s throw away from Cubao’s busy thoroughfare.

Barbecue carries with it a universal appeal for good reason: it’s simple, delicious and is almost always associated with family, friends or festivities.
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The resto’s facade is surprisingly familiar. There’s a roadside barbecue stand back home that uses the same tactic of temptation to lure anyone with a nose to do a double take. Growing up, I’d have barbecue from that stand at least once a week. It’s still there and it’s an institution in itself. That’s how good it is.

I’d like to believe Big Daddy Jay’s is destined for a similar kind of following if by some strange reason it hasn’t happened yet. When I arrived, I was greeted by the smell of ribs over a spartan grill and a flaming red smoker, true to form without shortcuts. The fact that it started out as a stall in a weekend food market and has grown into a cozy little restaurant makes it a good success story. They try to keep the recipe within the family. Jay, the “big daddy”, is actually the American brother in-law of one of the owners. The smoked ribs served to us is his own recipe, and even before they started putting it out there, he’s already been feeding the family with lip smacking pork ribs.
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Their specialty, treated with authentic southern American comfort, is a winner. I won’t beat around the bush: it’s really really good.
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There’s no other way to put it. The ribs were treated with love. Meticulous love that goes the extra mile. I’m not exaggerating. The ribs were spiced rubbed twice before being smoked (using locally sourced wood chips) at a really low temperature for a few hours. What that achieves is a slab of tenderness that yields effortlessly to the light pressure of knife. How’s that for a hallelujah?
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It was served with a side of buttered rice. To be fair I never count calories when I eat. There were two dishes served as well, including deep fried chicken wings done two ways (buffalo and honey mustard) and a pasta dish that was good but not really spectacular. But the real star were the ribs.
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People (and by that I mean Yedy and Eugene) told me the photos I take where everything’s blurred are pretty good. I’ll take that as a really great compliment and an impetus to add more of that here. I’m not sure if it’s really art or maybe just a shoddy semblance but either way I’m sticking with it. Here’s a parting shot of Mr. and Mrs. Pickiest Eater with the little one. I like it, and what I did was probably a disservice to them since they’re a good-looking couple but hey, it’s art y’all.
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Vietnamese-style Caramelized Pork Belly

I just remembered that today is our community’s fiesta back in Zamboanga. Fiestas are what you would imagine them to be: a melange of beautiful chaos, delicious food and no-frills gatherings of both the invited and uninvited. Over the years my family has had our fair share of all of that. There was this one particular time when a man and his little daughter just when inside our home, got a plate and helped himself to the food, while he and his daughter were sitting on the dining room floor. Sure, that was pretty inappropriate but it comes with the territory. Some just wait outside the gate and beg and who are we to deny them of food? It makes me feel sad and awkward that it’s during these moments of celebration that the reality of what we have and what others don’t have sinks in.

Today I was lucky to be able to curb how much I miss fiestas and family. And I also felt really good. The school organized a feeding program in coordination with the local parish. We were able to feed around a hundred kids who were attending catechism sessions. It’s nothing grand, but it works just like a fiesta. Kids were happy and full, and I can take comfort in that. Waking up too early for a Saturday was worth it.

Generosity can be expressed in so many ways. But I’d like to believe that food can best reflect it. I’m no authority (yet) when it comes to this but cooking with love (among other things) can make good food great. I heard that bit on the radio a few days ago when I was on my way to school. It makes sense, really.
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It’s one thing to throw together things from your pantry into a pot and call it experimentation, and it’s another to make sure that the flavors you’re marrying actually go well together. Thinking outside the box is good. By all means it’s something I want to hone, but once in a while, falling back on tried and tested flavors does the trick to satisfy not just the body but the soul.

With this dish, I think I did a little bit of both. Hey, it’s Vietnamese-inspired! I’ve never tried using coconut water to braise pork, but with adobo as my foundation, I knew I was not treading into uncharted waters. Ever since I watched Christine Ha do it on MasterChef, I felt the urge to replicate it because it looked incredible.
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After going through a few recipes, I finally managed to adjust the recipe to suit my preferences. I made this a few Saturdays ago, but if it’s still even possible, the taste still lingers. The coconut water does a great job of softening the pork, and the addition of patis (fish sauce) gives it that familiar salinity that makes it adobo’s peculiar cousin who enjoys indie music. It also made sense to use coconut sugar for that pleasant sweetness. All that was missing was the hard-boiled egg. But it didn’t really matter in the end because the dish already knocks it out of the park with its indulgent taste.

This, my friends, is generosity on a plate.
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Vietnamese-style Caramelized Pork Belly (serves 3 – 4)

  • 500 grams pork belly, cubed
  • 3 – 4 cups coconut water
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 1 small white onion, sliced
  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • chili oil, to taste
  • cracked black pepper, to taste

In a pot, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat and reduce it to a simmer. Allow the pork to braise in the liquid for at least an hour, until it is tender. Adjust taste and reduce the liquid to a thick sauce. Remove from heat and serve with rice, hard-boiled egg and salad greens on the side.

First feast

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Now it can be told: my days whizz by when I’m in the kitchen. I mean, I could kind of remember the sun hitting my face when I opened my eyes and I found myself on the early morning flight back home. Then…everything was a blur. There were good snippets of course: hosting a dinner for my friends, two charity events with the same people, Christmas lunch, and the micro-feast we had this morning. In between these events I was cooking up a storm, making sure time was blurred. In a few days I’ll be back in Manila and I hope I can make the most of the borrowed time.

A neighbor died today, January 1st. I’d like to believe he died a happy 79-year old man. “Life is too short”, his wife told us when we visited. Amen. We might as well enjoy the ride.

In the thick of things I found myself hitting the stress button more than once this morning when a few things didn’t go my way. But all was well, and I still couldn’t believe I put together almost all of what was on the table. Yay me.

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The spread:

Now I would consider this paella pretty fancy – with the arborio and saffron. But I still crave the one my Mama Eng usually makes with regular rice and malagkit/sticky rice, with that nice color that only cheap atsuete can give! Recipe here. For two years now we’ve had paella for New Year. Not too shabby!
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Chicken Galantina
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homemade ham – recipe here
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The ribs look glorious if I do say so myself.

Not all the meals I’ll have this year will be grand (I might even skip a meal or two). But I intend to enjoy this year in the company of good people and even better conversations. Let’s put ourselves out there! Happy New Year everyone. :)

It’s Christmas Day!

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By the time you read this, you’re probably just reeling from a deluge of holiday cheer. The Christmas season brings out all the fun and insanity that spills on all over whatever it is you’re preparing for the ones close to your heart. The days leading up to Christmas have been zany, to say the least. Sometimes I just wish I could take a backseat and just let other people do the work for me, because sleep is something I’d love to do right now.
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But no, this Christmas is pretty special for me. There’s a force that brings me to the kitchen to make sure I make the most of the moment. It’s Christmas and I’m home for the holidays and on vacation, because my life is different now. It’s more chaotic, vastly different and really fast-paced. Deciding to shift careers has exponentially changed me. Home is more special and meaningful, simply because I don’t get to see my family that often. I love being home.

While I was in the kitchen, slaving away for two days straight just to get a dinner with my friends just right, I’ve been listening to Christmas songs mom loves to play. That’s one of the things I miss so much, because as early as November her holiday collection fills the house with songs both familiar and obscure. I’ve heard a lot of voices (better than mine of course) sing about the good old days, childhood Christmases and simpler times. I find so much joy in that because it makes me warm and fuzzy, a refuge of sorts. Thinking of that makes me feel safe like a little kid.

Right now there’s a stew in the oven, iced tea brewing on the stove and another ham curing in the fridge. Yeah, “another” ham, because the first one didn’t make it to Christmas day because it was so good. So there’s going to be ham on January 1st.
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But days before the festivities have already begun, when I invited a few friends over for Christmas dinner. We had roast chicken, gratin, pureed squash, salad with homemade mayonnaise, seafood with garlic butter, and of course…ham. I blame them for finishing the ham. Oh, and Julia Child’s chocolate mousse.
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The bulk of them are either working as nurses or studying to become doctors. I can’t believe I could have gone either way if I stayed. It’s all good, at least it could still be a useful friendship. I kid.

It was a great night of food and shallow conversations. It’s comforting to know that despite paths diverging, nothing has changed.

So here’s my Christmas gift to you, because it’s not too late to make that ham for the dinner you’re planning for the New Year. You need five days to cure this, but the patience is worth it. Trust me. I will probably never buy commercial ham ever again.
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From my kitchen to yours, may your feasts be delicious and conversations hearty. As Amy Besa would put it, “cook with much love and passion, and serve with generosity”.
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Homemade Ham (serves around 10)

1.5 kg pigue/leg, deboned and skinless

Brine:

  • 1.5 liters water
  • 250 ml pineapple juice
  • 1 tablespoon + 1.5 teaspoon curing salt/prague powder
  • 1 cup iodised salt
  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar (or use a combination of brown and muscovado)
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • a few cloves

Braising liquid

  • 3/4 cups brown/muscovado sugar
  • 4 cups pineapple juice
  • 1 cup water
  • a few cloves
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

In a really large bowl/container, mix all the components of the brine together. Add the pork and cover with cling wrap. Let it cure in the fridge for 5 days. When done, drain the brine and run the pork through running water to wash away the excess saltiness. In a pot, combine ingredients for the braising liquid, heat it to a boil and reduce to let it simmer. Add the ham and braise on low heat for four hours or more on the stove or in the oven. When ham is tender, remove from the pot and allow the liquid to reduce until thick. That will be your glaze. Adjust the taste with pineapple juice and sugar, because it may get a little salty because of the ham.

When ready to serve the ham, pre-heat the oven broiler to around 180 C. Sprinkle a little brown sugar and glaze on the fat of the ham. Place it in the oven and allow the sugar to caramelize, around three to five minutes. When done, remove from oven and slice the ham to serve.

And if I’m being totally transparent, I went the extra mile and finally, FINALLY, lived a childhood fantasy. Commercial hams are actually pretty good, but that thin layer of fat on top doesn’t seem like a lot for a very hungry child who loves pork fat. I bought a kilo of pork belly and cured and cooked it the same way. This was the finished product. A glorious slab of pork belly ham.
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I think I hear the choir of angels breaking out in song.

Peach Marmalade and Tomato Braised Pork Steaks

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Weekends are golden days for me. As soon as Friday creeps in, that feeling of having a few uninterrupted hours to catch up on all things mundane excites me. I think you might know by now that I’m a geek who loves children’s fiction, and I’m currently halfway done with The Mark of Athena. Usually I can devour a book in a day, but I choose to savor the third installment since the next one will be out in the fall of 2013.

This weekend was a good one for me. After a long while, this blog’s pulse has been racing again, with a few updates on my life as a would-be glorified cook, the new header image and I think I boldly declared that I’d be posting a recipe soon. I couldn’t post a recipe without actually cooking something, and cook I did.
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My routine doesn’t involve a lot of cooking at home. The horror, I know. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to cook something for my survival – and because the place where I live doesn’t run out of places to eat (thank you, my friendly neighborhood ihawan/barbecue place), I find it pretty convenient that my needs are satisfied.

It’s funny that it took making a proper home-cooked meal to realize just how I missed myself. By “myself”, I mean the food blogger. And not just the blogger who writes about what he ate, but the blogger who writes about and shares what he cooked. The latter has always been who The Hungry Giant is.
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This is a simple recipe that involves only a few ingredients. I needed to practice my tourne abilities, hence the shaped carrots and chayote. They were simply steamed while the rice was cooking, using the steaming basket that comes with almost every rice cooker.

I wanted something other than the usual adobo (not that there’s anything to hate about adobo), and the idea of braising something in a thick tangy tomato sauce made me not miss adobo that much. And thanks to that trip to the Pancake House, where I had peach waffles, I asked myself why it took me this long to appreciate the sweetening power of anything made with peaches. A few heaping tablespoons made all the difference.

Not all weekends are like the one I had recently, but at least I milked it for what it’s worth.
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Tomato and Peach Braised Pork Steaks with Steamed Vegetables (serves 3 – 4)

  • 1 carrot, tourneed (or just slice it like you would thick fries)
  • 1 small chayote, tourneed (or just slice it like you would thick fries)
  • 1 -2 tablespoons butter
  • half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 6 pieces pork steaks (choose a cut with good marbling; this is roughly a kilo)
  • one 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup water/stock
  • 5 – 6 heaping tablespoons peach marmalade
  • 1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  1. As you cook the rice in the rice cooker, place the vegetables in foil or in a bowl with the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Place it in the steaming basket and place it over the rice to steam. Once the vegetables are cooked (not too soft that it becomes mushy), remove.
  2. Pat-dry the pork and season it pork with salt and pepper on both sides.
  3. In a pan, heat a little bit of oil over medium heat. Add the onions and the garlic and cook until aromatic. Remove from pan. Turn up the heat to high. Add around a tablespoon of oil.
  4. Sear the pork steaks on both sides, until they start to brown. Remove from pan.
  5. Add the tomatoes (together with the liquid in the can), marmalade, garlic, onions and water.
  6. Place pork back into the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the pork is tender and the sauce has reduced. If the pork is still not cooked through and the sauce dries up, add more water. Season to taste with salt, pepper and the cayenne.
  7. Serve with rice. Enjoy!