Day 207: The Man and the ‘Leg Up’on Tradition; ‘Replacement’

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Ahahah. Get it?! It’s a ‘leg up’ because it’s duck legs!

Wonderful, delicious, fatty, rich duck legs.Made even more wonderful using what is perhaps the most recognized Filipino dish, adobo.

Recently I’ve been loving playing around with Filipino food and Filipino recipes. Honestly Filipino cuisine is a wonderful playground for creative minds for three reasons.

The first is that Filipino food is, by its very nature, improvisational. It is hard to nail down a uniform Filipino culinary identity. Most Filipino recipes rely on a sense of ‘tantsya‘ or ‘cooking by feeling’. The senses take over and inform the decision making. You know what adobo should taste like, look like, smell like, so you chase after that image in your head. The basic technique, the major underlying characteristics, are there but the specific amounts and ratios can vary from person to person, day to day, mood to mood. For example, the Filipino version of adobo is meat simmered in a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar. But how much soy, how much vinegar, that’s entirely up to you. But not only that, whatever else you add may be subject to regional, familial, or personal preference as well! Can I say with 100% certainty that adobo should also include onions, garlic, and bay leaves? No, I cannot. Did mine? Yes, it did. A TON of garlic. Why? Because I LOOOVE garlic and this is my baby after all. But you can add as little or as much or none at all, based on what you want. And still every single version of this dish can be called, without a doubt, adobo. Why? Because it still has the same feeling. Travel around the Philippines and you may find a hundred different version of the same dish, each highlighting different aspects or regional flavors, but all of them will be immediately recognizable. Because of this, the Filipino chef is not afraid to experiment and is never unsure or uncertain what to do in the kitchen. Give them enough ingredients, and they’ll be able to make anything close to home.

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Which brings us to the second point. What I have loved discovering about Filipino cuisine recently is how international it really is. Now I know Thailand and Vietnam with their French, Dutch, and English influences has really dominated the Southeast Asian food revolution, but don’t forget that the Philippines was for a very long time colonized, and therefore influenced, by the Spanish. So while we have our own very distinct and local ways of preparing dishes and flavoring foods, we also have that wonderful Spanish culinary background. I have been looking up some of the most popular and well-known Filipino dishes in the Philippines and I’ve realized so many of them have counterparts in other well-known cuisines. We’ve been right there with France and Italy and all the Asian culinary giants this entire time! You love French escargots or maybe frog legs? We do them too. Thai peanut sauce really get you going? Kare-kare is a stew of vegetables and beef in a rich peanut sauce. Japanese tempura? Try our camaro rebosado and forget about it. I’m not saying Filipino food is the end all be all. I’m saying that Filipino food has had an international sense for a very long time but has lacked the international recognition (I feel) it deserves. But it’s great for me because I get to play around with this bridge. I can use these similarities to bridge the familiar with the new. For example, this duck adobo, simmered in this sauce and its own fat, is just close enough to duck confit for those who have never tried it before. If you’ve grown up eating, or better yet cooking and preparing, every cuisine but Filipino, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how many things we’ve already been doing.

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And the third best thing about experimenting and cooking with Filipino food is while the techniques may be universally recognizable, the ingredients certainly are not! And this is where I really get to have fun with experiments, replacements, and substitutions. For example, I love that this version of adobo with the duck is also a great way to introduce more people to itlog na maalat, or preserved duck eggs. These salt-cured eggs are soaked in a brine for a couple weeks giving them a completely different texture and very strong taste. But its saltiness wonderfully and perfectly complements the complexity of the adobo and with the fresh ripe juicy tomatoes, it is a common pairing in the Philippines. I love these eggs, often times having them at breakfast with fish or dinner with adobo or any time we need a quick and easy vegetable side that still packs plenty of flavor and character. Another wonderfully unique and complex Filipino ingredient would be taba ng talangka, or crab fat. The fat of small, local crabs is painstakingly harvested from hundreds and then sauteed in garlic to create a paste that is seafood-y, slightly brine-y, and chock full of the same umami characteristics as say, Japanese uni (sea urchin) only often times at a fraction of the cost. I get to use these very Filipino ingredients and dishes (like sisig, which will make an appearance later on) and showcase them in Filipino riffs of other cuisine’s dishes to do the reverse. I can either showcase Filipino ingredients by using them in familiar recipes, or use Filipino recipes to reintroduce people to familiar ingredients.

I still have plenty more recipes to experiment and to share so I hope you all enjoy!

Day 207

Man: 175 Loneliness: 32

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