Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Comsat Cooking: Sinampalukang Manok and the strength of culinary roots

People will always have a special connection to the food of their childhood. Be it a favorite summer snack to break the sweltering summer heat filled with fun and adventures, or the hot soup you were always served when you were sick and had to be doted on. That is the power of food, it stays is with you and accents, if not defines, a lot of important memories. Much like music, once you taste an old favorite, you are taken back to the comforts of childhood or a fond memory.

For cooks and passionate foodies, this connection becomes even more intense.

Sinampalukang Manok: cure for both hangovers and fevers

I am both a Tagalog and a Bicolano. My dad hails from San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija, and from my frequent visits there come my love of sauce-centric pork stews like Dinuguan (Pork Blood stew) and Menudo. Because Nueva Ecija's culture is rich with, and largely dependent on, rice, fiestas there are more of the traditional ones that artists paint murals about. There I learned that things that looked the same do not necessarily taste the same, take Menudo and the Tagalog Kaldereta (Pork and liver stewed in to). I also learned to adore pork in San Leonardo, as whole pigs are slaughtered and absolutely no part is wasted. This is a truly Pinoy trait as where ever you go, no part of the pig is wasted, but each province, sometimes even each barangay, does the pork a different kind of justice.

My fascination for the food of my mom's local Gubat, Sorsogon, is recent, but the effects of my uncles' dastardly spicy Kilawin (Filipino Ceviche) and Adobong Pabo (Turkey soy and vinegar stew), my lola's Pinangat (Taro leaves stewed in coconut cream) and Ginataang Santol (Wild mangosteen stewed in coconut cream) are part and parcel of my romance with food. In Bicol I learned to appreciate self-sustenance and backyard ingredients. My aunts would pick young papayas for Tinola (a chicken soup) and unripe langka (jackfruit) for Ginataan from our or our neighbors' gardens. These days, I get tanglad (lemongrass) from our backyard and siling labuyo (bird's eye chili) from the path to our compound. In Gubat, my palate was tested and tempered to spice, as my late uncle was often seen snacking on labuyo dipped in salt.

Though I am anything but a purist when it comes to traditional  Pinoy food, I respect and admire authentic local food, often even passionately protective of it. My cooking buds Marvin and Bojji are more the purist, trad guys in our little triangle cooking offense but we all are very respectful of our culinary roots and will debate their merits to short of a fistfight ('coz we're 30somethings, you know).

So this recipe from the Comsat Cooking series, will be a truly personal one which I hope does my Tagalog relatives proud. It is simple, with bold flavors perfect for a cold night and a hot plate of rice.

Sinampalukang Manok

What you'll need:

1 whole chicken cut into small pieces
A large piece of ginger peeled and cut into large strips
Three chopped cloves of garlic

Dark fish sauce
A cup's worth of young tamarind leaves
Unripe tamarind or tamarind paste
Chicken broth
Siling haba/pansigang (Philippine long green chili)

How to do it:

Clean and remove young tamarind leaves from the stalk, set aside. Heat oil in a pan and saute ginger and garlic for two minutes. Add chicken and sear for about five minutes on high heat. Add fish sauce and chili, lower heat to medium and cover. Cook until chicken is done. The perfect state of the chicken when this dish is served is tender, as in you-can-see-the-main-leg bone tender. Add chicken broth or water, bring to a boil. Now, this next step and be omitted if you have enough young tamarind leaves, if you don't then add unripe tamarind. Cook until tamarind is soft. Take out tamarinds and put into a small bowl with some of the soup. Mash until you get all of the thick past out, add more soup and sieve back into the pot. You can edit out this process with tamarind paste or the local champion, Knorr Sinigang Mix. Add a small dash of sugar and adjust seasoning with fish sauce if needed. Turn off heat, add tamarind leaves and stir. Serve hot as the devil's breath.

Some notes:

If you don't have young tamarind leaves, don't attempt this dish. You should be able to find them in local wet markets but I have never seen them in supermarkets and groceries. If you're out of the country, figure something out, or plant tamarind today.

Also, I really only use dark chicken meat for this (thigh and legs) because they are more flavorful and don't dry out like breasts. Bony parts like the back and wings are perfect too.

Make sure you cut your ginger either large enough so people can avoid biting into it or grate it so that it melds with the soup and doesn't become an unpleasantly sharp "surprise".
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