Deep-Fried Smelts

DSCF7738 (640x427)Alright. I’m seeing fish in a different light. I turned my back to pork and beef and discovered a variety of fish I have never knew even existed in the oriental store.  I don’t buy those expensive steak cuts and salmon fillets as many Filipinos do (usually with salmon for Sinigang). I just can’t finish a steak cut or  an entire fillet in one sitting, and I’d prefer them sushi.  I’d buy a whole variety of fish with heads attached and have them cleaned and eviscerated for extra and rinse them again when I reach home.  They stay in my freezer up until I start my workweek on a Saturday when I start defrosting pulling out one package at a time.  Many Canadian supermarkets only display fillets in either fresh or frozen packages. They never sell them with the head on and with as much assortment as those found in Chinatown or in any oriental store for that matter.

The smelt really intrigued me. They are tiny and just perfect for snacking. I know they are also perfect for deep-frying, but cooking them to a crunchy and juicy bite is the challenge. Before the inception of this article, I’ve tried frying the same by dipping the fish in beaten egg first and into a cornstarch/flour dredging mix similar to what I did with the Curried Fried Chicken. However,  it didn’t turn out as crunchy as expected. That led me to try other kinds of batter mixture, and the tempura batter came to mind. The other ready-made Asian style batter mixes looked even more complicated than this one. I would have used a can of beer as replacement for water, but alcohol is off limits until the next holiday.  Butterflying the smelt was also an ingenious way of keeping the form and shape intact. Seeing them on the plate fried and butterflied was just so inviting.

Ingredients:

  • Smelts, butterflied
  • Whole Wheat Flour (or White Flour)
  • Cornstarch
  • Cold Carbonated Water
  • Canola oil for deep-frying
  • Salt & Pepper

Mix a one to four ratio of cornstarch and flour in a bowl. Slowly pour the carbonated water and stir gently until smooth. Season with salt & pepper.

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Dip the smelts into the batter and deep-fry one or two at a time. Pat dry with a paper towel and season with more salt & pepper 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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Curried Fried Chicken

DSCF7670 (640x495)I was away from blogging for more than a month.  Things went by so quickly that by the time I knew it, the dreaded holidays was already knocking on my doorstep.  I fear the holidays. I  hate the holidays.  It’s that period of the year when I miss sleep and my shift stretches to an average of 11 hours; and sometimes, work is non-stop.  I feel work as soon as I wake-up, up until I reach home late at night. It has been like that lately, thus I had to step-back for several weeks and clear my mind towards more productive and fun activities. Now is the time to tick-off those much longed and wanted ‘things-to-do’ which I postponed time and time again for so many years!  I have a short-list that’s all dedicated  for the years 2014 to 2016. I haven’t looked beyond that, but the thought of retirement has also been included.

Anyway, I was also on a week holiday in Singapore to feast on spectacular Asian delights. I never knew Singapore can be that far! Took me 20 plus hours to reach my destination (as soon as I stepped-out of my apartment and arrived at my hotel). The in-flight movies kept me wide awake. There were three major Bruce Lee films to celebrate and commemorate  his 40th death anniversary and that even made me want to leave my tight and compact seat and stretch my legs and practice my tai chi.  I was totally bored with lame storyline from the movie ‘Man of Steal’, but opted to stay fully awake for the movie just to see Amy Adams’ alluring and charming red head features. She remains to be most adorable and mesmerizing actress I’ve seen and watched.

Singapore is a food mecca. It’s an expensive city much like Toronto, but the street food the city offers is infinite. Toronto doesn’t offer as much Asian Gourmet Vendor Food and can be quite expensive if done daily.  Singapore doesn’t. It’s affordable to the ordinary employee. That experience alone took me to nirvana.  One of the most memorable morsel of food ‘combo’ I ate every morning was the Curried Fried Chicken with either Bee-Hon or Steamed Rice and a side of fried egg.  I  discovered the stall just down-by the metro which was also close to my hotel.  It also came as a Fried Chicken Wings ‘combo’ and it’s definitely perfect for snacking (as much as a meal).

Ingredients:

  • Chicken Drumsticks (or wings)
  • Eggs
  • Condensed Milk ( or evaporated)
  • Curry Powder
  • Sea Salt
  • Crispy Fry Batter-Mix Brand (easiest batter-mix concoction available in the market, and I think it’s Pinoy made). Follow packet instructions.

Beat the eggs thoroughly with condensed milk. Season with curry powder and sea salt and mix further.  Soak the chicken drumsticks into the beaten, seasoned eggs.

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Open a packet of Crispy Mix and pour the contents in a bowl.  Season with Curry Powder until the curry powder is fully incorporated into the mixture.

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Roll the drumsticks into the breadcrumbs, and pan-fry (or deep-fry) in oil until golden brown (I finished them off in the oven for easy cleaning).

Fry an egg or two to desired doneness and serve on the side. The stall served their fried eggs dry under a warmer as typical of many Asian fried eggs.

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Cold Chicken with Szechwan Pepper

DSCF7455 (640x480)Luca won Master Chef this season, and it was no surprise. He works in the industry. He’s Italian and he’s food depicts his background and character and they were all evident in all his dishes.  I believe that was the main ingredient that brought him the crown. His opponent, although technically more capable, just didn’t have that inner so-called ‘inspirational passion and soul’  so needed and required to be in a real, professional kitchen. I guess that’s just my personal opinion. The other home cook challengers should probably keep their day jobs and stay where they belong.  I was thinking while watching how they’d survive the heat of a fast-pace, brutally hot, and extremely impersonal approach in the line.  Again, this is just my personal opinion. It’s a TV show meant to be entertaining, and it’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ reborn.  Honestly, I was hooked and I was extremely entertained by the play-by-play drama orchestrated by the three host.

Anyway, I was able to pick-up some dishes from watching the weekly series. Many were just glamourized home-cooked dishes and nothing else. I’d enjoyed the classics as usual and hated the fancy plates they presented (Luca’s wasn’t). I enjoy doing simple, smooth ‘comforting’ dishes with bold and lingering flavours to the palate. I discovered this by biting my nails into Szechuan Food, and this has been continuing for three weeks now. It’s an entirely new horizon for me and the taste just wakes up my senses.  Moreover, Szechwan cooking serves cold dishes that can be eaten anytime of the day. That’s just so appetizing and this dish is with no exception. It’s so easy to prepare, but the varied dipping sauces are phenomenal.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken Breast or Leg
  • Green Beans as garnish

Dipping Sauce:

  • Szechwan Pepper
  • Sea Salt
  • Green onion, minced
  • Garlic, mined to a paste
  • Soy Sauce
  • Shaoxing cooking wine
  • Chinese Vinegar
  • Spicy Sesame oil
  • Brown Sugar

Boil the chicken until tender. Set aside at room temperature and shred or slice into small pieces. Keep it in the fridge to cool.

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In the meantime, roast the Szechuan Pepper and Sea salt in a pan.  When the spice starts to become aromatic, transfer into a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder and grind into a fine or coarsely grounded seasoning.

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Blanch the green beans in boiling water, and let it run in cold to stop the cooking process. Lightly sauté in oil, garlic, and Shaoxing Cooking wine.

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Set the green beans on the plate followed by the shredded chicken. Sprinkle with the Szechwan & Salt Seasoning and minced garlic. Serve with the Chinese Dipping Sauce on the side.

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Sliced Cold Beef in Chili Oil

DSCF7426 (640x492)Thursdays are reserved for Tai Chi Chuan and Szechwan Food.  These two are my personal goals for the day.  Before leaving for Madrid, I discovered a hole-in-the wall, mom & pop restaurant in the suburbs serving what they call down-to-earth Northern Chinese and Szechwan Cuisines. The restaurant only has a seating capacity of forty, but the volume and number of people coming in and out (without take-out) is non-stop as its doors open for lunch. It became my new stopover for snacks before awaiting a grueling Tai Chi practice ahead.  I needed to be stuffed; just enough to last me until midnight.

This discovery led me to the oriental store for sauces and grocery ‘items’ I saw on the menu (I asked for an English copy).  Through this guide, and through an old Szechwan cookbook, I was able to decipher some of the dishes I’d usually order. Everything happens to be in Chinatown, except for the Dried Orange Peel, which I searched everywhere and unfortunately, couldn’t find anymore. I vividly remember and know it was available about ten years ago in some store in Chinatown.  Tough luck.

Szechwan cooking is tattered with spices, and all parts of either the pig, chicken or beef are served stir-fried, braised or BBQ, by themselves or with vegetables. Fish is an expensive item and Ma Po To fu is one of the many popular dishes.  Lamb is also a common item, and Beijing Pancakes are abundantly served. Soy Sauce and Chinese Vinegar are condiments to all. But, I won’t deal with them for this one.  Later.

This dish caught my attention besides the extremely spicy BBQ line-up they offer. I enjoyed the sauce (I did it once a long time ago) and the beef itself provided several more meals after. It’s cheap, but the taste is lingering and unforgettable .  This is the start of my quest for something off-tangent.

Ingredients:

  • Beef Shank or Beef Tendon
  • Star Anise
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Szechuan Peppercorns
  • Green Onion
  • Ginger
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Shaoxing Cooking Wine
  • Chinese Vinegar
  • Spicy Sesame Oil
  • Soy Sauce
  • Sugar
  • Sea Salt

Start by tying the Beef Shank into one solid piece. Heat a pot of oil and sear oil sides. Add water and boil to simmer together with the aromatics: green onion, ginger, white onion, and garlic for about an hour. Remove the shank from the pot and strain the broth.

Return the shank back into the pot, add the wine, soy sauce, star anise, peppercorns and vinegar.  Boil to simmer for another hour or so or until the shank is tender.  This is one way.

I used some cut Beef Tendons (just so many kinds of tendons) for this dish.

My procedure was:

Place the tendons in a pot of water and let it boil. Discard the first boil, and start with fresh water. Add the aromatics as with the Beef Shank. Let it boil to simmer until just tender. Add the spices, wine, soy sauce and vinegar and let boil further.  Strain and adjust the broth according to taste.

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Remove the tendons from the pot and place in the fridge. Save the broth for stir-fry and noodle soup.

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Cut the shank or the beef tendons as thin as possible and spread it on the plate.  Drizzle the vinaigrette all over or make it as a dipping sauce (on the side; as it was served to me) and garnish with finely chopped green onion.

Vinaigrette:

  • Soy Sauce
  • Chinese Vinegar
  • Spicy Sesame Oil
  • Sugar
  • Sea Salt
  • Garlic, minced

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