Stewed Pig’s Feet (Pig’s Trotters)

DSCF7713 (640x425)My Sifu (Teacher) wore a classic black, V-Cut, step-in kung-fu shoes in last night’s training. Anyone who were born in the 60s or 70s would recognize and know how they looked like.  I haven’t seen those black velvet shoes (a V-cut at that!) in ages. The first time I was introduced to those was back in the 80s when kung-fu movies exploded in cinemas, and those shoes were part of the fighters’ wardrobe. It was an integral part of the fight scene and they accentuated the fighters’ artistry, make-up and style. Some shoe styles (boot-cut, both low and high) either portrayed a certain dynasty or a particular set of invaders (oh those English dubbed kung-fu movies). Some were made for peasants and others were worn for majesties and his foot soldiers.  All those shoes were as mythical as those theatrical kung-fu moves and weapons performed during that bygone era. In fact,  I bought a couple of pairs for myself on my first trip to Hong Kong (plain & V-cut–yup, that fanatic) when I was still growing up. I wore them for training, but I later learned that it was insufficient to absorb stomps and shocks as characterized by many kung-fu fighting styles. I gave them up and trained with runners or football shoes instead.  Those turned out to be more comfortable and had more traction and grip on the floor when high speed or burst training was necessary.

Like I said in my previous blog. It’s all martial arts training for 2014. I’ve foregone serious training for more than a decade, and I know it will never go away.  I missed about 15 years of regular training and there’s a lot of catching-up to do. My peers from the past are way ahead of me. I can’t even determine my skill level at this point. It has been an on and off training if it’s serious training at all.  Watching documentaries motivates me to train, learn and aspire harder, and during the course of this ‘seeking an aspiration moment’ this dish popped up. It was eaten by the producers of the film I was watching and that began my quest for the identity of the Pig’s Trotters. And here it is.

This dish doesn’t have as much spices like the Chinese Braised Beef or Braised Tendons. It’s, again, a Vietnamese inspired dish without the lemongrass (missed it in the oriental grocery. My mind wanders what’s my next meal without using chicken or beef-gasgas na kasi).  Sugar  was caramelized firsthand with aromatics before it was braised for three or so hours with spices. Simple. Easy. Artery clogging.

Ingredients:

  • Pig’s feet, cut in bite size pieces
  • Patis (Nuoc Mam)
  • Dark Soy Sauce
  • Chicken Stock
  • Garlic, minced to a paste
  • Onion, chopped
  • Green onion
  • Ginger
  • Lemongrass (w/c I had forgotten)
  • Star Anise
  • Dried Chilis
  • Brown Sugar
  • Salt & Ground Black Pepper
  • Chinese Greens as garnish

Add sugar in a heated sauté pan with a little Chicken stock and continue stirring until the sugar caramelizes. Add the garlic and onion followed by the dark soy sauce and patis and stir further.

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Place the pig’s feet in the pan and add a little more chicken stock (just enough to cover the feet).  Start adding the green onion stalk, ginger, dried chilis, star anise, and season with salt and pepper.  Let it boil to simmer for about half an hour and skim the fat off as it boils. Cover and place in a preheated low-medium oven or let it braise on the stove stop for three hours.

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Remove the trotters from the pan and strain the sauce into a bowl or another sauce pan. Drizzle the sauce all over before serving.

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Roasted Quail with Honey and Garlic

DSCF7702 (640x495)2014 is dedicated to the diligent practice of the martial arts. The love of learning traditional fighting systems remains to be  an enigmatic artifact that have persistently followed me almost all my life; like a dark shadow lurking behind. It never left, and I think it wouldn’t so in the next 30 more years. It’s a hobby that I have loved and have endured almost a third of my life. It’s a  journey into the sometimes unknown and unforgiving battles within these make shift gymnasiums and dojos.  I got injured. I was deprived of information bounded by strict traditions, but never let-up.

I learned my fundamentals the hard way  in these rudimentary and creepy atmosphere back in the 80s.  I went as far as Manila’s Chinatown; taking the jeepney and walking the dangerous and dark streets of Doroteo Jose and Quiapo to learn a particular art. Those places were rampant for pickpockets, drunk and boisterous bystanders, hookers,  crack and rugby users, and whatever else one can imagine. All these hardwork have finally paid-off.  Took me more than a decade (and still learning) and through this martial journey met some new friends and brothers in the arts whom I would treasure all throughout my life.

Before blogging, I wrote with a martial arts magazine called RAPID Journal. That was the beginning of my passion for writing and interpreting the martial arts. It was as provocative and as enthusiastic as food writing. I continue my communication with this group to this day whenever I visit Southeast Asia and every visit feels like I was never gone; and every training is as refreshing and as awakening as fresh cold water in a hot summer’s day.

I am for martial tradition, and it shall remain that way. I don’t do it for sports, for trophies or cash,  tournaments or ring fights nor for some religious beliefs attached to its foundation. I have fervent wish to pass them on someday.  My training is for cultural cultivation and preservation of the arts and health. These, in my belief, are cultural artifacts meant to be appreciated and loved.  It’s also a form of  training in which I can clear my mind and see clarity towards a life’s path and to whatever challenges I may face in the future. It’s a difficult process: learning, re-learning and practicing and doing the same over and over again. That’s the challenge I enjoy facing  (and getting whacked while doing them). Moreover, I meet new people along the way, and that’s another facet of training; a social interaction with people of the same interest and passion.

This dish somehow took me back to an era when I was still beginning my martial training. I was fervently reminded of  those Chinese banquet celebrations where Roasted Pigeons were served to start.  I love those pigeons, and sometimes, when I’m invited into a Chinese banquet for New Year’s, Wedding or Grand Celebrations in the Martial World, I would munch and gobble-up the pigeon plate.  Many Filipino-Chinese, I noticed, went for the more expensive fish and beef entrees. I went for the bird. They had probably thought I was queer, but the smokiness combined with the sweet smelling and crispy gamy skin from the roast lingered throughout the night or day. The salt was the kicker.

I know it’s special and I can never cook it myself. These quails are Vietnamese by nature and I’ve only cooked this once before. It involves so much preparation despite the simple cooking procedures and steps.

Ingredients:

  • A pack of Quails
  • Honey
  • Light Soy Sauce
  • Dark Soy Sauce
  • Sesame Oil
  • Patis
  • Brown Sugar
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • Garlic, minced to a paste
  • bunch of skewers (soaked overnight)

Split the quail down the backbone and rinse off the cavities with running cold water. Discard the neck bones, and lay them flat on the cutting board.  Cut the skewers in half and pierce the quails from the legs to the neck to form an X.

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Prepare the marinade. Whisk all ingredients in a mixing bowl and adjust to taste.  Marinade the quails overnight.

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Set the quails on a roasting pan and bake them in a pre-heated oven at medium-high or heat until the skin caramelizes. Baste the quails with the marinade every so often to prevent them from drying.  Flip the quails three-fourths of the way to cook the other side.

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Dipping Sauce:

  • Lime Juice
  • Garlic, minced
  • Sugar
  • Thai Chilis
  • Patis

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Albondigas (Meatballs in Tomato Sauce)

DSCF7685 (640x495) Isn’t it strange that a Filipino term for a Meatball is a soup bowl served with Chinese Vermicelli (a Misua)? I’ve asked a couple of my friends about Filipino meatballs and their basic and maybe only recollection of one is the popular ‘Misua.’  I had more or less the same reflection about Misua growing-up, and being served a meatball soup (in a bowl) as a starter.  Sometimes, these meatballs were eaten together with steamed rice and vegetables, and the Chinese Vermicelli with soup slurped with gusto and taken as the  starter. It’s an interesting food pair, but definitely of Filipino or Filipino-Chinese descent. Despite its oriental connotation, the term for the dish is definitely Spanish. I feel that’s the dish’s heritage. It’s Philippine history expressed on a bowl of soup (again, never soups, please), and just maybe, because of the need in those desperate era and times when the Spaniards were way above and beyond the food chain and were in command of the islands, a new ‘meatball’ dish  was reborn in the process.

Anyway, I extremely enjoyed preparing this dish. It’s a dish dating and going back from the Moors (as stated in the recipe) with ingredients like Cinnamon, Cumin and Nutmeg rolled and added with the ball and the sauce.  It is also considered as another kind of Tapas. Somehow, Albondigas crept through the Islands through Spain’s colonization of the Philippines.

I kept and stuck to the tradition of using Tomato Sauce for this blog, but before even doing that version, I’ve already prepared another  using wine or in wine sauce last year when I had fresh parsley on hand. Both were stand-out and star dishes.  I will present Albondigas in Tomato Sauce first.  I’ll start the other as soon as something comes up on top of my head that annoys me days on end and needs to be written down. It usually begins and ends that way when I write my blog (check my intro).

I must warn the readers though. This tomato sauce isn’t close to the Italian or Italian-American’s sour Tomato/Marinara Sauces nor the sweet and tangy Filipino Spaghetti/Tomato Sauce.  I would have taken these Albondigas with a glass of wine, but I already had my share for the New Year’s and I’ve already made a pact to myself to drink on an occasional basis only.

Ingredients:

  • Ground Pork
  • Garlic, minced
  • Onion, minced
  • Eggs (beaten)
  • French Loaf (soaked in water)
  • Olive oil
  • Nutmeg
  • Cumin
  • Cinnamon
  • Ground Black Pepper & Sea Salt
  • Honey
  • Flour
  • Crushed Canned Tomatoes (I used Italian)

Combine the ground pork with garlic, onion, soaked French bread, beaten egg, cinnamon, cumin, ground black pepper and sea salt.  Form the ground pork into bite-size balls and roll into seasoned flour.

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Pan-fry each meatball in olive oil until golden brown. Transfer in a baking dish and finish them off in a low-medium pre-heated oven.

Saute  onion and garlic in the same pan (Add more olive oil if necessary).  Add the crushed tomatoes, honey and cinnamon and season further to taste.  Allow the sauce to simmer for a few minutes or have started to reduce and thicken.

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Remove the meatballs from the oven and transfer back into the pan with the sauce and serve in small plates.

I learned from Culinary School to soak the bread in milk or other milk products.  The French loaf was a leftover from the holidays, and a French bread itself has enough butter to add more flavor into the meatball.

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Ma-Po Dou Fu (Ma Po Tofu)

DSCF7677 (640x360)This is a quick assessment. I’ve noticed recently that Filipinos have superbly overshadowed ‘a vast majority of the working population’ in the industry I work in.  It’s definitely a huge industry covering fastfood restaurants, pizza places, hotel kitchens, stand-alone restaurants, senior homes (where I belong), coffee shops and maybe, just maybe, temporary hotdog stands scattered in and around town.  It’s a definitely ‘yes’ for the Filipino in terms of loyalty, dedication, positive social interaction and impact to clients, strict work ethics, and many other obvious identifiable characteristics related to work.

I’ve noticed this change about two years ago when the coffee-shop’s crew members where I regularly visit before work became an all-Filipino team.  It was a refreshing change for the coffee shop. It turned around from something critically unhygienic to some place where some ‘coffee’ downtime can be had and appreciated.  Service, which was the most important factor in the industry,  also vastly improved.  I guess many don’t understand the meaning of ‘service’ in this industry. Filipinos are very disciplined and service-driven, and one factor, one definite major factor which keeps Filipinos ahead is the SMILE. The smile, despite all the hardwork, the hardships and sometimes the challenges, keeps them ‘going’ like the commercial implies. That’s the plus factor.

This dish is not Filipino, but it reminded me of my university days in the early nineties.  My friends re-introduced me to this dish, but I was hesitant to try it not knowing the ingredients and sauces used in the preparation.  I came across this dish again in my antiquated Szechwan Cookbook and began re-thinking it my way. And, surprisingly, it turned out as I’ve imagined it to be with all the spices and sauces that went into the final preparation. All ingredients are available in the oriental store.   It has that ‘Tokwa’t Baboy’ feel, but went beyond Soy Sauce, Vinegar, Ground Black Pepper, and Onions syndrome.  It’s perfect with steamed rice, and for the New Year’s as a solo dish with booze (the spice has that kick).

Ingredients:

  • Tofu (used Dry Firm and chopped in cubes)
  • Pork Belly Slab, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Wood Ear or ‘Tenga ng Daga’, soaked in water overnight and sliced in slivers
  • Mushrooms, chopped
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Green Onion
  • Szechwan Peppercorns
  • Dried Chilis (Chinese, Optional)
  • Light Soy Sauce
  • Spicy Bean Paste
  • Ground Black Bean Sauce (or Fermented Black Beans)
  • Chicken Stock
  • Cornstarch solution as a thickening agent

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Heat the wok with a small amount of oil. When the wok hits smoking point, render the fat from the pork belly and set aside.  Stir-fry the ginger, garlic, green onion, chilis and mushrooms into the wok (Discard some of the oil if there was too much rendered).

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Slowly add the tofu and continue stir-frying.  Scoop some of the spicy bean paste into the wok until the tofu has been completely covered (or to the desired spice level).  Add the ‘Tenga ng Daga’ and continue stirring.

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Pour the light soy sauce and some fermented black bean sauce and stir further. Add a little water or chicken stock to create some sauce like mixture. Sprinkle with ground Szechwan Peppercorn/Salt and return the pork belly back into the wok.  Set the fire to low-medium and cover for a few minutes. Thicken with cornstarch solution and garnish with chopped green onions.

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