Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Chicken Adobo from my imagination

I don’t remember ever having a ‘proper’ chicken adobo. Despite having Filipino minders when I was a child, strangely we had little if no Filipino cuisine at home. Sad really, since there is a lot about Filipino food that is robust and flavourful (or so I’ve heard). As it is, Filipinos seem to love food as much as us Singaporeans anyways, so surely there is some correlation to deliciousness of cuisines there.

Last year I had an opportunity to bring Chicken Adobo into my food consciousness again. It’s a name I heard in childhood, and some Filipino acquaintances wanted to prepare that for a potluck party. They had the right ingredients, but unfortunately, very little cooking expertise. The first sign was the lean pork loin, and the jumping backwards when wet chopped garlic hit the oil.

Last night I felt inspired to create that tangy fragrant gravy to consume in copious amounts over rice, almost like a soup. All I could remember was lots of fried garlic and black pepper. The end result was really really delicious, and it made me feel really cheered, even though according to my mother it was.. ‘good, but not according to (her) taste’. Ah well. Can’t please everyone.

Rough guide to Chicken Adobo

1 Large Chicken – skin and excess fat removed,
Cut into manageable chunks, bones included.
1 tablespoon black peppercorns – pounded not too fine
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tblsp olive oil

1 and a half heads of fresh garlic - chopped
2 tblsp cooking oil

1 cup white/distilled vinegar
½ cup light soy sauce
½ cup black vinegar (the Chinese kind, I use bulldog brand)

1 heaped tablespoon sugar (ad more or less to taste)
2 bay leaves, or ½ tablespoon dried herbs ( I used spaghetti Bolognese mix and it worked great)
½ tblsp crushed black pepper (again)

In a large bowl, marinate the chicken chunks with the pepper sugar salt and olive oil. Make sure well incorporated, then leave aside for 30 mins.

In a large cast iron skillet or heavy bottomed medium pot, heat the cooking oil. Then brown the chicken pieces in batches. Remove chicken and set aside. In the oil left in the pan, fry the garlic till golden.

At this point, If you’ve been using the skillet, deglaze the pan with a half cup of water, transfer everything into a medium sized pot and continue. Or else, just add half a cup of water into the pot deglaze and continue.

Return the chicken into the pot . Then add the vinegars and soy sauce. Add enough water to that to almost cover the chicken. Leaving ½ inch ‘chicken-berg tops’ are okay. The chicken will shrink a little more during the simmering. Bring the pot to boil then lower to a simmer, add the bay leaves (or dried herbs) and crushed black pepper. Simmer for 20-30 mins until chicken tender but not falling apart. Turn off.

Dish out immediately, served on hot white rice, or cool, refrigerate and eat the next day. Keeping it for a day does improve the flavours a little.

Please be reminded that as usual, all quantities were estimated. You can adjust to fit your own preferences.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Tales from Kampuchea: Part Two

Fermented fish ingredients seem to be such an ubiquitous part of South-East Asian cuisine. Everywhere you go in the region you will find some kind of variation of fish fermented in salt, either its liquids strained and bottled, or the chunky preparations used in some tasty local speciality.

Personally I've never been put off by these things. It does smell pretty strong on its own, but belachan (wrapped twice in plastic bags and then a plastic box to prevent the jam from taking on a fermented shrimp fragrance), chinchalok and thai fish sauce had always been much beloved staples in my family's refrigerator while growing up, and learning how they were made only made me more appreciative of their precious flavours. I always felt sorry for the guy who has to sort the teeny tiny shrimp from all the other things one can find in the sea and catch in big nets.

Thus Prahoc didn't come as a big surprise to me, and even though friends of mine, Cambodian or otherwise, would talk about it like it was a big joke, dramatically wrinkling up noses and even faces for effect. Instead, it made me more determined to seek out this interesting ingredient and give it a good strong sniff. It didn't take me long. My first visit to the local market, and the shop vendors laughed to see this obvious foreigner sticking her little noise in a barrel full of neatly arranged preserved fish. It wasn't that bad really. Found in varying shades of off white to green/grayish white, the chunks of fish are preserved in salt and packed into barrels. The smell reminded me immediately of mui yu, an oil preserved salted fish with a mushy texture and incredible salty taste used in some Chinese cooking, most often with pork.

Seeing that the smell didn't put me off, the excited G immediately bought some to cook for me, Cambodian style, an excuse for her to indulge in one of her favourite things to eat, fried minced pork with Prahoc, since her husband categorically refused to eat what he describes as 'dirty, smelly and unhygenic' (bah! i say, salt kills all the germies) So the next morning I woke up to the sound of a chopper chopping away (no, in Cambodia the butchers have no meat grinders. mincemeat is a luxury because you need to chop away at it yourself).

That afternoon, at the orphanage we were visiting, we had a very delicious packed lunch of white rice, baby cucumbers, green baby brinjals an green tomatoes (all eaten raw) topped with generous sprinklings of the tasty minced pork fried with Prahoc. **

Needless to say, I had to try my hand at making it too, thus when G made her trip here next i requested for some Prahoc to experiment with. Not content with just prahoc and pork I had to add some other ingredients to the mix, ginger, lemongrass, garlic and chillies. Blended into a fine paste, it was chopped into some pork (I tried to mince pork by myself!!! wow!!!)(Very tedious. Next time I'll just buy it ground)

The end result wasn't taste too bad, but because I was cooking a large quantity, I think it didn't dry out as much as it should have. The pumpkin balanced the flavours and made the mix more palatable for my family, some of whom are much less enamoured of preserved fish products than I am.

Definitely a recipe to try again, albeit with some tweaking. I still have half a jar of prahoc in the fridge. I'm saving it. Hopefully it will turn out better next time. :D

**(Which made me feel bad later when i saw what the children were having for lunch. They came back from school for their lunch break. There were two pots for them on the table. One contained some poor quality boiled rice, and the other a soup made from some bones and green gourd. Two small pots to be shared among 15 to 20 girls. No child deserves that.)