Sour Flavors of the Philippines: sinigang and adobo
How does Philippine cooking differ from other Southeast Asian cuisines? Sourness is at the heart of Philippine cooking: sinigang (soups soured by sour fruits like tamarind, guava, kamias); adobos (natural vinegars) and kinilaw (citrus juices, sour fruits or vinegars).
Sinigang or Philippine sour soup
Sinigang is a sour soup that can be made with pork, beef and seafood (shellfish or fish). And there are classic derivations of the dish called sinampalukang manok (chicken soured by tamarind flowers and leaves) and bulanglang in Pampanga (bangus or milkfish with guava and kangkong or water spinach)
For the cooking class, we decided to do pork belly sinigang with guava and kangkong.
The most important concept we wanted to teach about sinigang is the process of doing a broth first by boiling the meat with onions, tomatoes, guava, black peppercorns, celery and possibly any other vegetable that you might want to add to the flavors. Once the meat is tender (about 45 min), the meat is removed from the broth and it is strained to remove all the solids esp the guava seeds. I find it dangerous to leave guava seeds in the broth as an unsuspecting diner can break a tooth biting into these seeds.
One big mistake most people do when making soups or stews is they think it does not matter how long they leave the meats on the stove simmering. Overcooked meats have lost all their juices and flavors and there is nothing worse than eating disintegrating meat.
To finish the sinigang, the meat is reunited with the strained broth along with tomatoes, chilies, salt, crushed black peppercorns, taro, radish, lemon juice and finally the kangkong. All leafy veggies must be added just minutes before the hot soup is served.
The best part of eating the sinigang is that you can season the soup according to your taste through the sawsawan or dip: kalamansi or lemon juice with patis (fish sauce) spiked with sliced chilies.
Two Adobos: chicken and pork sparerib
Adobos are vinegar-based stews. If you use other souring agents such as citrus juices or sour fruits, it is no longer an adobo; the dish becomes something else. Just like the sinigang cannot be soured by vinegar — it becomes paksiw.
Soy sauce is NOT an essential ingredient of adobo. In fact, I still encounter Filipino purists who stick their noses up at people using soy sauce claiming that it is a Chinese ingredient and not Filipino. The classic adobo was cooked carefully over slow heat and must be browned in its own fat. Using soy sauce to brown the adobo was considered lazy cooking. But today, the majority of Filipinos use soy sauce in their adobos and using it is perfectly fine.
Turmeric or dilaw in Tagalog is used in Central Luzon (Pampanga and Bulacan) to cook eels and catfish adobo style. In India, the classic use of turmeric is with poultry and seafood. So chicken turmeric adobo was something I wanted to teach students as this is part of our legacy.
The secret to a good adobo is the quality of the vinegar: use natural vinegars which is why I went to Whole Foods to get Coconut Secret, a Philippine coconut sap vinegar that is organic and aged for one year. We used this vinegar for the chicken.
Finishing the adobo
Adobos can be served straight with the sauce (wet) or it can be finished by frying, broiling or grilling. Then the sauce is simmered and reduced to a thicker sauce and served either on the side or the meat is returned to the sauce.
We tried another adobo using a different type of vinegar: Bragg’s unfiltered, raw, organic apple cider vinegar. For me, pork and apples are a classic pair. I like to add peeled apple chunks to my adobo stew for sweetness (pls NEVER sweeten your adobos with sugar; use fruits). When the ribs hit the grill, the sugar from the apples caramelize the ribs and the flavors are truly addictive.
NOTE: For recipes of adobos, please check an earlier post on Adobos and Vinegars
Chef Romy likes to put a lot of whole garlic cloves (as opposed to minced) into his adobo stew and can be harvested and fried to garnish the dish. It is also delicious when eaten with hot steaming rice along with the adobo sauce. As added note, use tellicherry black peppercorns and crush them in a mortar and pestle before putting them into the adobo sauce.
The best part of the cooking class is to be able to sit down together to commune and share the food. Along with the sinigang and adobos, Romy served them a cucumber, tomato and melon salad and to cleanse the palate, the students had ice cream: purple yam, mango, avocado, coffee and banana caramel.
It was a feast worth sharing and hopefully to be repeated as these students go home and cook sinigang and adobo for their family and friends.