Without a doubt I had coconut in mind as the featured ingredient. Coconut is abundant in the Philippines and it’s versatility allows us to cook savoury dishes as well as sweets.
Creating the story of the journey of the Filipino cuisine through its colonial past was an exciting challenge. The Spanish colonised us for more than 300 years, then came the Americans, then the Japanese, then the Americans came back in what some history books claim as our ‘liberation.’ I then had to create a menu that feature these influences. Adobo is a no brainer Spanish influence. The Japanese brought creativity and imagination in food presentation, not to mention freshness to our, otherwise rich palate. The culinary contribution of the Americans to Philippine cuisine is more recent with burgers and the proliferation of fast food chains, hence the enterprising Filipino selling pork barbecue as street food and in commercial food franchises.
Finally, I had to create dishes that bring flavours from my experience as an immigrant in Australia – the abundance of fresh market produce, the availability of ingredients found in specialty convenience stores and the diversity of cultures that brought their own culinary delights.
”Taro leaves...smoked blue mackerel...chicken liver, heart and giblet...fennel...salmon steak...okra...pork...banana ketchup...Mang Tomas...sticky rice...ginger...chocolate...
So here it is, my menu for 2019 New Year’s Eve dinner.
- Tinoto Onigiri with Spicy Lychee Coconut Curry
Tinoto is a relative of its more popular ‘cousin’ – laing (pronounced lah-ing) – a dish of taro leaves and coconut milk. When you ask a Filipino to name a dish containing these ingredients, for sure they will mention laing – a Bicolano dish.
Bicolanos are Filipinos from the Bicol region, a group of provinces from the southern-most part of Luzon, famous for Mayon Volcano which is often compared to Mount Fuji for its near perfect cone and, of course, its spicy dishes laced with siling labuyo…a type of chilli that is very small but packs a big punch!
I made my tinoto with dried taro leaves, lemongrass, smoked blue mackerel or round scad (tinapang galunggong) and coconut milk I got the ingredients from a Filipino food grocery, Manila Sari-Sari Store in Chatswood, but these could also be found in local Asian food stores in many suburbs.
The tinoto is perfectly balanced by the sweet and spicy flavours of the lychee coconut curry, which is made of Thai red curry paste and lychee thickened with coconut milk. These ingredients are largely available in many Asian food stores and could also be found in local groceries like Woolworths and Coles.
There are two ways I presented this dish. One, as an onigiri – a Japanese rice ball often eaten on the go. I used the tinoto as a filling topped with the lychee coconut curry and garnished with shaved bonito flakes and shredded coconut. The other as a yin-yang bowl with the tinoto on one side and the curry on the other topped with shaved bonito flakes.
- Chicken liver, heart and giblet adobo with fennel
Adobo (pronounced ah-dough-bo) is a popular Filipino dish and sometimes regarded as the Filipino National Dish. Adobo is from the Spanish word, adobar, which means to marinade, and became popular because it is a way of preserving meats at a time when refrigeration was not yet available. The dish is made by marinating or braising the meat in vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. The Philippines has many variations of the adobo and each region prides itself on its own flavours.
I cooked my adobo using chicken liver, giblet and hearts. I first fried lots of garlic in oil until it changed colour, stirred in the giblets, fennel, vinegar and fish sauce then incorporated the heart and liver. I finished the dish with a generous slathering of coconut cream.
Chicken innards are cheap and available fresh from any Asian butcher or separately packed in local groceries like Woolworths and Coles. I prefer to buy mine fresh as I cooked them on the day and as a way to reduce packaging.
Fennel is not a traditional ingredient to this dish but I find that it gives the adobo the freshness that cuts through the acidity of the vinegar and the richness of the coconut cream. For additional texture I incorporated hard boiled quail eggs.
- Salmon steaks braised in vinegar and coconut
Fish braised in vinegar is called paksiw (pronounced pack-see-eew). This dish is more popularly made using fresh water fish called Bangus (pronounced bang-ooze) but could be made using almost any kinds of fish. I don’t like bangus because it has tiny bones embedded in its flesh and its white meat becomes too dry, much like the chicken breast.
My take on the paksiw used salmon steaks braised in ginger, garlic, onion and vinegar finished with coconut cream. I garnished this with bhindi fry, a favourite Indian dish of mine made of okra and spices fried until crispy.
- Filipino pork barbecue yakiniku
The Filipino-style pork barbecue is always a hit, especially with young people. It is made of pork meat, usually pork shoulder or belly, marinated in vinegar, banana ketchup, spices and lemonade. The meat is skewered in thin bamboo sticks then chargrilled to perfection. It’s sweet, tangy with a touch of smokiness from the charcoal. My take on this incorporated coconut oil in the marinade.
I did a yakiniku take on this by slicing the meat thinly and using the kushi sticks I got from a Japanese grocer in Chatswood as skewers. I wanted to cook this in a hibachi but had to settle for a typical charcoal barbecue I got from Bunnings for my son’s grilled burger party last year.
The Filipino pork barbecue is always the first to go in any gathering and this was no exception in our case. The stick makes it easy to grab and the flavour just makes you want to have more!
- Pork crackling roast with liver dipping sauce
This would probably be the simplest dish in the menu but not the easiest to master. The pork skin needs to be crisp and the meat tender and juicy. I used pork belly because of the generous layers of fat which makes the meat ooze with heart-stopping goodness. I swear pork fat is life!
I tried to make a Cebu Lechon take on this by wrapping lemon grass, coriander and spices in pork belly. I also rubbed the meat generously with coconut oil. Much to learn.
A dipping sauce of Mang Tomas, a bottled sauce made of puréed chicken liver and spices that can be had from Filipino food groceries, makes this perfect.
- Sweet sticky rice balls with jack fruit in chocolate cups, ginger meringue shards, and chocolate coconut sauce
I love chocolates and I love coconut. So I made bibingkang malagkit (pronounced bee-bing-cang mah-lag-kit) which is sticky rice made of glutinous white rice, coconut milk, sugar and jack fruit. This is usually topped with coconut caramel made of coconut milk and sugar but I used melted dark chocolate instead then garnished with latik (pronounced lah-tick) which is the granules you get as by-product from boiling coconut cream until the oil is separated from the cream. I then spiced this with ginger meringue shards then topped with chocolate coconut cream and whipped cream.
All in all, it took me three days to prepare and cook all my elements, the bulk of which happened throughout the day of on the 31st of December. It was certainly tiring but seeing how it turned out and enjoyed by my guests was rewarding.