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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Just Salt

We had another quiet, simple weekend, just spent with my daughter and husband. While Saturday was efficiently spent doing the weekly groceries, and driving my daughter to and from her violin lessons and ending with Mass in the early evening, our Sunday began with brunch of Filipino tapsi (combination of breakfast sweet meat, fried rice and fried egg) at this place we recently discovered called Deo’s Hideaway Bar, just a 5 minute drive from our house. It is situated at one of the high points of our area quite near the Provincial Hall with a really great panoramic view of Metro Manila, from Muntinlupa on the left to Quezon City and Marikina on the right. Just sitting there and taking everything in was therapeutic by itself.

In the spirit of going back to basics, it was also timely that a week before, I already planned on trying out a different recipe for Hainanese Chicken Rice for dinner. My old recipe called for salting the chicken, and stuffing the cavity with ginger and lemongrass, then boiling the chicken until it was cooked through. With this method, I usually ended up with chicken that was dull, got too flaky, and the skin all torn up.

However, this new discovery of mine required prepping the chicken by rubbing it all over with kosher salt. In my case, since I wasn’t able to make a quick drop at the supermarket for kosher salt, I just used rock salt (I’m not sure if they’re actually the same thing), which worked just as fine. Rubbing the chicken all over and inside the cavities definitely made the chicken and its skin all firm and glossy, and certainly contributed to producing a better broth, both in appearance (one ends up skimming off white colored scum, instead of brown), and taste (clean chicken flavor). It is also desirable to have a rice cooker for preparing the rice dish as it will substantially cut your labor time. I used jasmine rice for this version, but any long grain variety will do. However, jasmine rice is already aromatic by itself and it is ideal for this dish. I further enhanced the flavor and aroma by adding a few leaves of pandan (screw pine) into the rice cooker and the result was all heavenly flavor and aroma.

The first few bites into the chicken, and few sips of broth certainly confirmed why this much loved Singaporean dish is named as its national dish, and getting to be more popular here as can be seen by restaurants sprouting like mushrooms offering this as their special.

Considering that I cooked double the recipe of this dish as I was going to try it out for the first time on 8 people, it took me three hours to cook everything alone — from the chopping to the scrubbing to the boiling and plating. But now that I’ve already gone through the whole thing once, I am now familiar with it and will probably be able to cook the same dish for a shorter period next time. Don’t be daunted by my experience here. Hainanese Chicken just needs a bit more care in preparing and cooking, but the reward of a simple, flavorful and invigorating dish is well worth it.

The Chicken

1 whole chicken (organic if available)
kosher salt (or rock salt)
4˝ section of ginger cut in 1/4˝ slices
spring onion (both green & white parts)
3 cloves garlic, crushed with some skin on
1 tsp or so of sesame oil

The Rice

2 Tbsp. chicken fat or vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1˝ section of ginger, finely minced
2 cups long grain or Jasmine rice soaked in water for 10 mins. or longer
2 cups reserved chicken broth
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
pandan leaves

The Chili Sauce

1 Tbsp. lime juice
2 Tbsp. reserved chicken broth
2 tsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. Sriracha chili sauce
4 cloves garlic
1˝ ginger
generous pinch of salt to taste

For the Table

1/4 cup dark soy sauce
few sprigs cilantro
1 cucumber sliced into bite sized chunks

1. To clean chicken, rub with salt to rid of loose skin and dirt. Wash and pat dry inside and out. Season generously with salt inside and out.
2. Stuff chicken cavity with crushed garlic, ginger and spring onions. Place in stockpot and fill with water just covering the chicken. Let boil over high heat, then immediately turn heat to low and keep to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes more (depending on the size of the chicken).
3. Check for doneness by sticking a fork or chopstick into the flesh under the leg and see if juices run clear, or insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone. It should read 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. When chicken is done, transfer to a container prepared with ice water and soak to stop the cooking process and allow to cool. Reserve the chicken broth to serve as soup, for cooking rice & preparing the chili sauce.

5. For the rice, drain the water. In a wok or saucepan, heat 2 Tbsp. oil over medium high heat. When hot, add ginger and garlic and fry until fragrant. Make sure not to burn the aromatics.
6. Add drained rice and stir to coat. Cook for 2 minutes, add sesame oil and mix well.
7. If cooking rice on stovetop, in the same saucepan where you are frying the rice, add 2 cups of reserved chicken broth, add salt and pandan leaves if using, and let boil uncovered. Immediately turn heat down to low, cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit (with lid still on) for 5 to 10 minutes, to allow residual heat to finish the cooking.
8. If cooking rice in rice cooker, after frying, pour aromatics and rice into rice cooker, add 2 1/2 cups reserved chicken broth and salt. Fold 2 to 3 pandan leaves together, if using, and insert in the rice. Turn on your rice cooker and allow it to cook your rice accordingly.
9. While rice is cooking, remove chicken from ice bath and rub outside of chicken with sesame oil. Carve chicken for serving.
10. For chili sauce, blend all ingredients in the blender until smooth and bright red in color. Prepare soup by adding salt as needed and serve hot.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Deliciously Simple

It’s been months! How time flies when one procrastinates. Which is not a really good habit by the way, but there you have it. However, considering that things are slowing down a bit for the business as the school year is ending, it is also the time that I can also sit still for an hour or so and finally share something here.

From November last year until February this year, everything just came whizzing by me that all I could do was just pick up and run after whatever it is. I keep telling myself, ˝Tomorrow I’ll write˝ or ˝Hey, this is a good dish. Will share this later.˝ But never got around to doing it. But it was a very fulfilling Christmas season, and start of the New Year.

For my friends out there who know more than most people about what’s going on with me, they knew that Heaven’s Country Kitchen was invited to become a full time concessionaire at this school where we are operating. Hence, aside from my usual brunch offerings (pancakes, waffles, french toasts), we are offering lunch, sandwiches and pasta dishes. I’m very thankful that the students welcomed our entry by patronizing us often, and it’s been quite thrilling for me to plan the weekly menu that is not the usual thing you get from your school canteen. So far, the students’ favorites have been my standby as with other clients and friends: the Korean Beef Stew, the Beef Salpicado, the Pasta Carbonara, the Crispy Pork Chops or Chicken Fillets with Cranberry or Cheese Sauce. And, there are a few discoveries too like the Spinach and Cheese Ravioli with Pomodoro made from molo wrappers, the sticky barbeque chicken wings served with baked mushroom rice, and the Pizzas Margherita or 2 Cheese & Garlic made from 10 inch flour tortillas that come out of the oven flavorful and crispy, much like the Roman pizzas we enjoy in the Eternal City.

Not that I am not advocating love and enjoyment of Filipino food, I just noticed that the food offerings there lacked variety. And so what I offered was really just alternatives, and healthier alternatives at that. When budget allows, I would use corn or olive oil, or insert vegetable ingredients here and there without hiding them. And surprisingly, when we offered green salads, students would prefer it for their snacks or as sides to their lunch plates, whether they brought their own or bought it from either concessionaire.

Nothing beats the feeling I get when I make people happy with the food I prepare or cook for them, because I enjoy making or conceptualizing those dishes too.

In the spirit of simplicity, I recently introduced home made cream puffs into the mix of products I offer the students. I had to sell them at P20/piece which is 50% more expensive than what the other concessionaire was selling, but this is justified because my batch is home made and authentic due to the cream patissiere. The P10–cream puffs do not have a filling (which would probably shock the French – cream puffs with no cream?!)

One good thing about this divine pastry is that you dont need any special equipment to be able to make them, just a cookie sheet and an oven. The choux pastry is also versatile as this is the same recipe you use for making Spanish churros and dip in thick, hot chocolate or profiteroles.

Choux Pastry

1 cup water
1/2 cup butter, softened and cut into cubes
1 cup all purpose flour
4 eggs

Creme Patissiere (Cream Filling)

1 can evaporated milk or fresh milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla

Sugar Syrup

1 cup boiling water
1 cup sugar

1. Make Choux Pastry: Heat water and sugar in a casserole until you reach a rolling boil. Add flour and mix it in immediately with a wooden spoon until it forms into a ball.
2. Take the pot out of the heat and beat in eggs one at a time until each egg is fully incorporated into the batter.
3. Spoon the batter into balls and place in ungreased cookie sheet. Place the choux pastry in the oven which has been preheated to 350 degrees or gas mark 6. Bake for 40 minutes or until pastry is cooked and golden on top. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cooled, slice into the pastry half way through the middle and set aside.
4. Make the Cream Filling: Boil milk and sugar in a pot over low heat while stirring constantly.
5. Once sugar is mixed well, add the flour and continue to stir allowing the mixture to boil, and thickened slightly into a cream consistency. Remove from heat.
6. Add half the cream mixture into the beaten egg yolks until mixed together, then pour the egg mixture back into the remaining cream mixture in the pot and put back into a low fire, stirring constantly, until it reaches to a boil once more.
7. Remove from heat and add vanilla flavoring. Set aside to cool.
8. Make the sugar syrup: Melt sugar in a separate pot over low fire until it turns brown.
9. Slowly pour the hot water while stirring constantly and continue to cook in low fire until thickened. Set aside.
10. Assembly: Fill the cream filling into the middle part of the choux pastry, as in a sandwich, and repeat with remaining pastry. Line them up on top of wax paper sheets. Pour the sugar syrup over each cream puffs and serve.

This recipe makes 1 dozen cream puffs.