Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pulutan Tayo Diyan: Vinaigrette marinated chicken liver wrapped in bacon

Pulutan: a Filipino term often misunderstood by foreign food show hosts (Bizarre Food's Andrew Zimmern erroneously understood it as a generic term for finger food/snacks in his 2008 visit). Here's the thing, man, pulutan, a word that, which like most Filipino words, is directly descriptive of the object or action being stated, literally means "stuff you can pick up with your hands", and this direct translation is what I presume to be the source of the misunderstanding. The closest Western word to it is Bar Chow, because pulutan is basically food consumed while drinking. A soup becomes a pulutan when served in an inuman. A bowl of friggin' spaghetti becomes pulutan when consumed with alcohol.

Which brings us to another Pinoy quirk that will clarify the term further: We. Don't. Do. Social. Drinking. When most parts of the world get together and use alcohol as a social lubricant, a tool to wash away inhibitions and not the end goal, the Pinoy inuman (inom = to drink, suffix -an = added to words to connote an action or event to complete the act it is attached to, see upuan [chair], where upo means to sit and suntukan [fight], where suntok means punch) or drinking session, is an event on its own. Drinking here, as many foreigners I've shared a table with have noticed, is not a tool, it's an end on its own. Most Filipinos drink to celebrate, wash away sorrows or discuss important stuff, like most people do, but one thing you can expect is that 80% of the people around a table in an inuman will drink until they are drunk, because not doing so would be an utter waste of a perfectly good chance to get hammered. Is this healthy? Who the heck can judge that? It's a culture thing, much like how we like to put ice in beer.

Much can be said about pulutan, and much will be said about it in this blog, but for now, here's my take on a classic hors d' oeuvres which makes for a great pulutan you can surprise your friends with. I have two takes on this, more a variation in cooking methods, because many Pinoy households do not have ovens.

Vinaigrette marinated Chicken Liver wrapped in Bacon

Cooking method number one: Baked and topped with vinaigrette and drippings

What you need:

Pinoy vinaigrette
1 part acid (I have used lemons, lime, white wine vinegar, and I sh__ you not, sukang paombong)
if you use fruit acid, include lemon or lime zest by grating the skin of the fruit lightly, avoid including bitter white pit
3 parts olive oil
fresh Thai sweet basil and oregano
dried thyme and sage
pureed or mashed garlic
sugar, salt and pepper to taste

Chicken livers
Smoked bacon

How to do it:

Split chicken livers in two, (if the heart is still attached, keep it attached to the smaller half) then season with salt and pepper. Wrap in bacon (don't scrimp on it, I used one strip for each roll) and secure with a toothpick. Generously top each one with a teaspoon of vinaigrette, let sit for 10 minutes to a half hour.

Cooking method one:
Place on a baking tray inside a deep baking dish, bake uncovered in high heat until bacon is slightly browned.

Cooking method two:
Half fill a frying pan with oil, heat and fry rolls in high heat until bacon is crisp.
Cooking method number two: fried and topped with vinaigrette, ranch dressing, dried habaƱero powder for a kick and fried sweet basil

Some notes: 

The wrap-anything-in-bacon thing is a popular one. From asparagus spears to prunes, there is seemingly nothing and no dish that bacon could not improve. But for this dish, the crisp and sweet bacon, partnering with the tart and sour vinaigrette cuts the rich and butter liver perfectly. Cooked quick, liver becomes supple and luxuriously dense, the bacon crisp and tasty enough to act as a perfect foil, all tied in with the vinaigrette.

Regarding the vinaigrette, please, my kababayans, don't be afraid to make your own. Store bought crap are both expensive and unfit for the strong Filipino palate. Create your own and you will find that a vinaigrette is a versatile dressing, dip and marinade.Don't be afraid to be a bastardo, not many of us can afford or find Italian basil, fresh thyme or get the best olive oil. Thankfully, the choices we have in supermarket shelves and wet markets are getting better. For example, you can always find fresh Thai sweet basil and oregano in big supermarkets and even palengkes (wet markets). Cubao's Farmers Market, its virtues here extolled by Marketman, offers a surprising variety of hard to find ingredients that save me trips to Makati. I found fresh thyme and rosemary there, but the price tag is steep. A friend gave me a ketchup bottle of locally grown, dried HabaƱero powder, a fiery Mexican chili, from Benguet. As of this posting, Filippo Berio is on promo in SM Hypermarkets, olive oil and extra virgin olive oil bottles come with 50% more for free. I also recently bought a PET bottle of decent Capri white wine vinegar for about 70 pesos in Robinson's Supermarket. More on this stretching out the pantry and bastardo moves later.
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