When I was growing up in Northern California — where Filipino migrant farmworkers started settling in the 1920s, and which today is home to one of the country’s largest populations of Filipino Americans — the scent of rice, still steamy and warm in the rice cooker, was the steady backdrop to my days. It was so constant from one house to the next, so dependable, that’s how I knew: Wherever I found myself, I was home.
In a Filipino house, there is always food, more food than you could ever eat, stacked in the refrigerator, edge to edge on the counter and simmering on the stove. My brothers and sisters and I came home from school to giant pots of sinigang, a soup that’s sour enough only if you gasp a little at the first spoonful, and arroz caldo, an earthy rice porridge brightened by a squeeze of calamansi — a native citrus that looks like a mini orange but tastes closer to a lime — plucked from the tree in our backyard.
My mom cooked all of this at the start of each week, before she headed off to her day job at IBM. She has roots in Pampanga, which I found out later in life is rightly called the culinary capital of the Philippines; people rave about the vividness of the ingredients there and the imagination with which they’re deployed. Food is my mom’s birthright, and I’m lucky that she passed that on to me.
But when I moved to New York and started cooking professionally, the dishes I made were far removed from my childhood: Italian Bolognese, French terrines. I deveined countless lobes of foie gras with a jeweler’s tweezer. This was sophisticated food, I was taught; this was cuisine.
I didn’t know then that the food I grew up with was also complex and layered, refined over centuries and demanding meticulous technique. Once I was on my own, I cooked it by feel, reaching for the distinctive notes of sour and salt, remembering how we kids used to help my mom make dinner when she got home from work, while my dad was pulling the night shift as a manager at McDonald’s.
Because there were so many of us — I’m the second youngest of six — when we were home, we rarely sat down at the dining table to eat. Instead, we ate where we talked, gathered around the counter or cross-legged at the coffee table, our plates anointed by the ever-ready bottle of sawsawan, a homemade tincture of spiced vinegar, with whole garlic cloves steeping. (Condiments are practically compulsory in Filipino food. You could even say that the diner plays as big a role as the chef, seasoning each dish to taste.)
Not until five years ago, when I was preparing to open the New York outpost of San Francisco’s Mission Chinese Food, did I finally get an official cooking lesson from my lola, my mom’s mom. And I mean official: She said firmly, “You’re an executive chef now,” meaning I was finally worthy of her secrets.
My lola, a former pharmacist who tended African violets in her retirement, was the one my mom and my aunts deferred to in the kitchen. Before a party, she cooked all week. It was part of her love language. At her funeral last spring — she died at age 100 — every eulogy was an incantation of the bounty she’d fed us all our lives, from bistek, steak exalted by soy sauce and a sunny kiss of calamansi, to Christmas ensaymadas, sweet butter-soaked rolls thatched with queso de bola, a red-skinned Edam cheese.
Her most prized dish was chicken relleno, reserved for the grandest festivities. She had never revealed the recipe to anyone, which strained some friendships.
The day I learned to make chicken relleno, my lola laid out two cutting boards and a set of battered but carefully sharpened knives. Wearing a shower cap over her head, she deboned the chicken with her tiny hands so fast, I had to double-check what parts were left. Her embutido — the pork and sausage stuffing to be sewn up inside the chicken — required the technical precision of a French farce (finely puréed meat). Later, at a culinary conference, I watched a demonstration by French chef Jacques Pépin and realized that my lola was making galantine.
That was the first time I took a real look at the mechanics behind the food of my childhood. My mom emailed me her recipe archive, a 40-page document that included multiple takes on single dishes, culled from her sisters and my lola. Not all of them were complete or correct as written — certain ingredients and methods simply went unmentioned, taken for granted, part of the heritage of life in the Philippines, where those details would’ve been communal knowledge.
When The New York Times asked me for 10 recipes that speak to the heart of Filipino cuisine, I went back through my mom’s collection and consulted old cookbooks drawing from other regions of the Philippines. Like generations of Filipino cooks before me, I’ve adapted these recipes to my taste, knowing that not everyone may approve. My lola looked slightly askance at the chicken relleno I made for Mission Chinese Food — but she was tickled that I called it Josefina’s House Special Chicken and sold it for $75.
There sadly isn’t room here to include some of my favorite comfort foods, like monggo, a mung-bean stew lush with melted pork fat, or the deep-fried meatballs called bola-bola that I used to make for my roommates when I was nostalgic for home. Truly, this list is just a beginning, for me as much as for you: The Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, and each region has a claim to culinary glory.
The 10 Essential Recipes
1. Coconut Milk Chicken Adobo
When I left home, adobo was a dish I could cook off the top of my head. The name was bestowed by Spanish colonizers, referring to the use of vinegar and seasonings to preserve meat, but the stew existed long before their arrival. It is always made with vinegar and often soy sauce, but there are as many adobo recipes as there are Filipino cooks. In this version, coconut — present in three forms: milk, oil and vinegar — brings silkiness and a hint of elegance. Every ingredient announces itself; none are shy. The braised whole peppercorns pop in your mouth.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total time: 1 3/4 hours
• 2 tablespoons coconut oil
• 15 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
• 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns, plus 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
• 4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken drumsticks and thighs
• 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
• 1/2 cup coconut vinegar
• 1/2 cup soy sauce
• 8 fresh bay leaves
• Cooked rice, for serving
1. In a large pot, heat the coconut oil over medium-high until shimmering. Add the garlic, whole peppercorns, freshly ground pepper and red-pepper flakes, drop the temperature to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is toasted and softened and mixture is fragrant, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the chicken, skin-side down, and cook over medium-high, undisturbed, until fat starts to render, about 5 minutes.
3. Stir in the coconut milk, coconut vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves and 1 cup water, and let the mixture come to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the chicken feels loosened and just about falling off the bone, stirring halfway through, about 1 hour.
4. Increase the temperature to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened to a velvety gravy, about 15 minutes. Serve chicken and sauce over rice.
2. Lumpia Shanghai
Lumpia are cousins to spring rolls, a tradition that most likely goes back to the Chinese traders who first visited the Philippines in the ninth century. As kids, we’d crowd around the kitchen counter to make them, spooning out the filling and rolling up the skins before sliding them into hot oil. They come in different incarnations and may be served unfried and even unwrapped, but the classic is lumpia Shanghai, skinny cigarillos with supercrunchy skins, packed with meat, juices seething. I like dipping them in banana ketchup, which you can buy or improvise by cooking overripe bananas and tomato paste into a sweet-and-sour jam.
Yield: 20 lumpia
Total time: 1 1/4 hours
• 1 medium carrot, peeled, then coarsely grated on box grater (about 1/2 packed cup)
• 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely minced (about 1 1/2 cups)
• 1/2 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained, then finely minced (about 1/2 cup)
• 1 celery stalk, finely minced (about 1/2 cup)
• 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
• 2 eggs (1 egg white reserved to seal wrappers)
• 1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce
• 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1/2 pound ground pork
• 1/2 pound ground beef
• 3/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
• 20 (8-by-8-inch) lumpia or spring roll wrappers (from two 11-ounce packages), thawed if frozen, peeled to separate, then set under a moistened cloth
• Canola oil
• Banana ketchup, for serving
1. Prepare the filling: In a large bowl, combine the carrot, onion, water chestnuts, celery, garlic, 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk, fish sauce and 1/2 teaspoon salt; mix until well blended. Add the pork, beef, pepper and remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Using your hands, gently mix until everything is evenly distributed, being careful not to overwork or compress the meat mixture.
2. Prepare the lumpia: In a small bowl, whisk about 3 tablespoons water into remaining egg white. Working one at a time, place a lumpia wrapper on a work surface with one corner facing you. Add 3 tablespoons of filling in the center of the wrapper and shape it into a 7-inch-long log stretching from the left corner of the wrapper toward the right corner of the wrapper. Brush the outer 1-inch edge of the wrapper with the egg white mixture, then lift the bottom corner of the lumpia wrapper and fold it up and over the filling, making sure there’s no air between the filling and the wrapper. Tightly fold the left and right corners of the wrapper toward the center, pulling and folding the corners over the filling. Roll the log away from you toward the top corner, tightly sealing it closed and forming it into a compact roll.
3. In a deep pot, add enough oil to reach 3 inches and heat over medium-high until about 350 degrees. Working in batches, add 6 or so lumpia and cook, rotating frequently and separating if needed, until golden brown and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a large, paper towel-lined baking sheet to cool, then cook the remaining lumpia. (You can also freeze uncooked lumpia until firm on a wax paper-lined baking sheet, wrap them well and keep them frozen for up to 2 weeks. Fry frozen lumpia for 4 to 5 minutes.)
4. Serve lumpia whole or halved crosswise, with banana ketchup for dipping. If serving a crowd, you can cook the lumpia an hour or two ahead, let them come to room temperature then reheat them in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes.
3. Arroz Caldo With Collards and Soy-Cured Egg Yolks
The Filipino rice porridge called lugaw started out as a simple equation of rice, water and salt, until the conquistadors arrived in the 16th century and demanded more sumptuous dishes. Add tripe and innards to lugaw, and it becomes goto; with chicken and saffron, it is arroz caldo. It’s looser and soupier than Chinese congee, cooked until you can’t see individual grains. I put in collard greens to make it a balanced meal and use wings because of the high bone-to-meat ratio and the jiggly skin. (Keeping the bones in will give the broth more flavor.) The soy sauce-cured yolks are probably best at the two-hour mark — they get firmer and saltier the longer they cure, so follow your taste.
Yield: 6 servings (makes 12 cups)
Total time: 2 1/2 hours
• 6 eggs
• 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola
• 1 medium yellow onion, minced
• 8 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 1/2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken flats and drumettes
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 cup jasmine or other long-grain rice
• 10 cups chicken stock
• 1 pound collard greens, leaves ripped off stems, stems discarded and leaves roughly chopped
• 2 (2-inch) pieces skin-on ginger, each crushed into a few pieces, plus 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and julienned, for garnish
• 2 large pinches of saffron
• 6 teaspoons soy sauce
• 2 tablespoons fish sauce
• 6 fresh calamansi or lemon wedges, for serving
• 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, for serving
1. Prepare the cured egg yolks — and save your egg carton, as it is the perfect egg-curing holder. You’ll want to first remove the top of the eggs: Working with one at a time, tap each egg on a sharp corner of your work surface around the top third of the egg to pop off the crown. Pour the egg into one palm and let the egg white sink through your fingertips to separate the yolk from the whites, discarding the egg whites or saving them for another use. Gently slide the egg yolk back into its shell, top it with 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and swirl the yolk in its shell so the soy sauce is fully distributed, settling under the yolk as well. Transfer the egg yolk in its shell back into the egg container, setting it upright. Repeat with the remaining eggs, returning them all to the egg carton. Set aside to cure at room temperature.
2. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium. Add the onion and minced garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes.
3. Add the chicken flats and drumettes, season with 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat starts to render, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice until coated in fat. Increase the temperature to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is toasted, about 5 minutes.
4. Stir in the stock, collards, crushed ginger pieces and saffron and bring to a boil over high.
5. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is tender and almost falling off the bone, and the rice grains have broken down significantly, about 1 1/2 hours. The broth should be thinner than a Chinese congee, so add 1 cup of water at a time if the soup has thickened too much. Once you get to this stage, discard the crushed ginger pieces, which served as an aromatic.
6. Season the arroz caldo with the fish sauce, then divide among bowls. Top with a squeeze of calamansi or lemon (and serve additional wedges on the side, for those that like more acid), a soy-cured yolk, fried garlic, scallions and julienned ginger.
Bistek is steak but transformed by its encounter with soy sauce and citrus. My addition is browned butter, an ingredient not so common in Southeast Asian cooking. This was one of my lola’s signature dishes: She’d cut the onions half-an-inch thick, sear them briefly, then add a little water to make the pan flare up, so they’d get extra crisp. She would always plate it in a casserole dish, with enough pan sauce to sop up with rice. The beef fat should coat your lips, and then the citrus cuts through it. It’s worth investing in good olive oil; every ingredient matters because there are so few, and you can taste them all.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 25 minutes
• 2 (1-inch-thick) rib-eye steaks (about 1 1/2 pounds)
• 4 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
• 10 fresh bay leaves
• 8 garlic cloves, each clove smashed into 3 to 4 pieces
• 1 large white onion, peeled and sliced crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick rounds
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 to 3 whole lemons)
• 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice (from 1/2 orange)
• 1/4 cup soy sauce
1. Prepare the steaks: Trim and discard any excess fat to your liking. Halve each steak horizontally into two thin steaks, then cut each into 5 or 6 pieces. You want the pieces to be nonuniform, roughly chopped rectangles and triangles. The important thing is that they’re all an even thickness. Set aside.
2. In a large, lidded skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium. Add the bay leaves, pressing to flatten, and cook until toasted at edges, turning halfway through, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer bay leaves to a plate. Add the smashed garlic cloves and sear over medium-high, flipping frequently, until golden on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the bay leaves.
3. Add the onion rounds, keeping them intact, season with salt and cook, undisturbed, just until the onions start just begin to lightly brown underneath, about 2 minutes. Flip rounds, add 2 tablespoons water, cover with lid and quickly steam, 2 minutes. Remove lid and cook until onions are crisp-tender and liquid is almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Transfer onions to plate.
4. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet and heat over medium-high until ripping hot. Season beef all over with salt and pepper. Working quickly and in batches to avoid crowding, sear beef until caramelized and golden brown (like mini steaks!) but not fully cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes per side for medium or medium-rare. Transfer to a platter and repeat with remaining meat. Arrange meat in an even layer on the platter.
5. Add the butter to the skillet and cook over medium-high, swirling the pan, until browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, orange juice and soy sauce and cook, stirring frequently, until glossy and slightly looser than maple syrup, 2 to 3 minutes.
6. Drizzle pan sauce over steak. Top with onions and garlic and tuck bay leaves into dish. Serve immediately.
5. Sinigang (Tamarind Broth With Pork and Vegetables)
This is the soup that made me like vegetables when I was growing up. You always measure sinigang by sourness, which is so much a part of our cuisine — layers of acid coming from vinegar, fresh citrus, tamarind and unripe fruits. Here, sour is a power move, hitting you all the way at the back of your tongue. Whole serrano chiles bring a low-frequency spicy hum, adding not so much heat as depth. The daikon should be left in big, juicy chunks, so when you bite into them, you get an unexpected touch of coolness in the hot broth.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total time: 2 1/2 hours
• 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola
• 12 whole garlic cloves, crushed
• 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces, excess fat trimmed
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 cups Vietnamese concentrated cooking tamarind (“nuoc me chua”), or 1 (14-ounce) block tamarind paste, liquefied (see Tip below)
• 2 medium yellow onions, halved from tip to tip, then each half cubed into 4 quarters
• 1/4 cup fish sauce
• 2 whole serrano chiles
• 1 daikon (1 3/4 pounds), peeled and sliced into 1 1/2-inch chunks
• 1/2 pound long beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
• 1 Japanese eggplant (about 5 ounces), sliced into 1-inch pieces
• 2 medium tomatoes, halved, then each half cubed into 4 quarters
• 10 ounces baby spinach (about 8 packed cups)
• 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons)
• Steamed jasmine rice, for serving
1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook until toasted, 1 minute. Add the pork, season with 1 1/2 tablespoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the tamarind, onion, fish sauce, serrano chiles and 10 cups water, and bring to a boil over high.
2. Once the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat to medium, cover and simmer until the pork is softened but not fully tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
3. Stir in the daikon, cover and continue to simmer until daikon is tender and the pork is yielding, about 30 minutes.
4. Uncover and discard the chiles. Add the long beans, eggplant, tomatoes and spinach and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
5. Stir in the lemon juice. Serve over rice.
Tip: To liquefy block tamarind, first, break the tamarind block into 1-inch chunks, and put it in a mixing bowl. Add 2 1/2 cups boiling water, push the tamarind into the water, and let soften for 5 minutes. Break the tamarind up with a fork, and let sit another 15 minutes to soften. Mash up the tamarind again, then pour everything through a fine-mesh strainer into another mixing bowl, pressing and mashing the solids in the strainer to extract as much jammy tamarind pulp as possible. (Don’t forget to scrape off the underside of the strainer, where the pulp will collect.) Whisk together the resulting tamarind sauce, then transfer to a measuring cup — you should have about 2 cups. If necessary, add water to make 2 cups.
6. Pinakbet (Vegetables Stewed in Fermented Shrimp Paste)
Filipino cooking embraces salt — perhaps the legacy of life in a tropical climate, where, before refrigeration, food had to be preserved. The primary salt in pinkabet, a vegetable stew, is bagoong, a satisfyingly funky paste of fermented shrimp or fish. As with miso, there are many types of bagoong: dry or oily, toasted or raw, bright pink and briny or dark brown and faintly sweet. I like to use the pink variety because of the large formations of salt crystals. Paired with the toasted and caramelized tomato paste, the bagoong achieves a deep, concentrated umami flavor, enough to season all the vegetables.
Yield: 8 to 12 servings (makes about 12 cups)
Total time: 50 minutes
• 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola
• 12 garlic cloves, smashed
• 3 tablespoons tomato paste
• 5 tablespoons bagoong (Filipino fermented shrimp paste), preferably the untoasted pink variety
• 3 very ripe tomatoes, halved, then each half cubed into 4 quarters
• 2 large yellow onions, halved, then each half cubed into 4 quarters
• 10 ounces kabocha squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
• 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
• 1 pound okra, ends trimmed
• 1/2 pound long beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
• 2 Japanese eggplants, cut into 1-inch pieces
• 1 bittermelon, halved lengthwise, seeds removed, then cut into 1/2-inch moons
• Steamed jasmine rice, for serving
1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high until it shimmers. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until caramelized, toasted and darkened, about 2 minutes. Add the bagoong and cook, stirring, until superfragrant and aromatic, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes and stir to deglaze, about 3 minutes. Add the onions, squash, salt and 2 cups water and cook over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to soften and liquid reduces slightly and becomes glossy, about 10 minutes.
3. Add the okra, long beans, eggplants and bittermelon, and cook over medium-high, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash and other vegetables are soft but retain some bite, and long beans are floppy, 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Serve hot over rice or set it on a buffet, where it’s equally good served at room temperature.
There’s a perception that Filipino food is rustic and uncomplicated, but when my lola taught me to make chicken relleno — chicken stuffed with embutido, a kind of meatloaf — I realized that she was using the same techniques I’d learned in professional kitchens cooking French food. She was very particular about ingredients. Even when her memory started fading, her first question when she saw me was always “Are you using chorizo de Bilbao?” (Yes, Lola.) Here embutido is a centerpiece dish in its own right. I tried chopping the meat for texture, but whipping the ingredients in a food processor, the way my lola did it, integrates everything better.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Total time: 2 hours
• 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 9 large eggs
• 8 ounces chorizo de Bilbao (3 links)
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), softened
• 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
• 1/4 cup finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles (1/4-inch pieces)
• 1/4 cup finely chopped pitted green olives (1/4-inch pieces)
• 1/4 cup raisins
• 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
• 1 pound ground pork
• Flaky sea salt, for garnish
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high with 1 teaspoon salt, and set up an ice bath in a large bowl. Carefully drop 6 eggs into the hot water, one at a time, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer over low and cook, 9 minutes. Transfer eggs to the ice bath and let cool. Drain, then carefully peel.
2. Roughly chop the chorizo, then transfer to a food processor. Give it a few quick pulses to break into small crumbs.
3. In a large bowl, add the chorizo, butter, Parmesan, pickles, olives, raisins, garlic, pepper and remaining 1 tablespoon salt and stir to combine. Crack in the remaining 3 eggs. Add the pork and gently mix to combine. (You’ll want to work lightly to avoid packing the meat mixture tightly.)
4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
5. Tear two 15-inch-long sheets of aluminum foil. Divide the meat mixture into four portions. Position one sheet of aluminum foil in front of you, with one long side nearest you. Arrange one portion of meat in a 3-by-10-inch rectangle lengthwise in the center of the aluminum foil. Lay 3 whole, peeled hard-boiled eggs lengthwise across the top of the meat mixture, leaving about 1 inch between each egg. (You want to leave space between the eggs, so you can fully wrap them in meat to protect them from overcooking.) Add one portion meat mixture on top, tucking the meat between the eggs and around the edges and flattening the meat mixture on top. Pat the mixture into a log, completely encasing the eggs with meat.
6. Working with the long edge nearest to you, lift the foil, and fold it away from you to completely cover the log, then roll the log gently until it’s covered lengthwise with foil. Tuck in the sides: Starting on one side, where the foil overlaps, fold that edge in tightly over the meat, then create four additional folds in a clockwise motion until the end of the embutido is fully covered. Set the torchon vertically, sitting it on the sealed base you’ve just created, and do the same to the top, sealing it shut in five folds and pressing down to eliminate any air gaps. Repeat with remaining meat and eggs, forming a second torchon.
7. Tear a 16-inch length of plastic wrap and set one torchon in the center of the plastic wrap. Lift the length of plastic wrap closest to you to cover the torchon, then roll the torchon away from you to the edge of the plastic wrap until the torchon is covered lengthwise. Twist the excess plastic wrap tightly at both tips. Repeat two more times, using two more layers of plastic wrap, then after third layer, using your dominant hand, tightly grasp one twist of the torchon. Using your other hand, roll the torchon on the surface toward you, while keeping the twist secure with your dominant hand, increasing tension to create a compact cylindrical shape. Tie the excess twist into a knot, then twist and knot the other end tightly to secure. Your torchon should be roughly 2 1/2 by 10 inches, roughly the size of a salami. Repeat with remaining torchon.
8. Transfer torchons to a large cast-iron pot or deep roasting pan. Cover completely with room temperature water (torchons will float). Transfer both to the middle rack of the oven and cook until pork is cooked through, about 1 hour. (Pierce with cake tester, then hold the cake tester up to the bottom of your lip: If it feels hot, the meat is cooked through.) Remove torchons from the water and rest on a cutting board to cool and set, about 10 minutes. Unwrap them and cut into slices. When unwrapping, beautiful cooking juices will be released; save them for serving. Transfer embutido slices to a platter and drizzle with reserved cooking juices. To serve, sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
8. Pancit Palabok (Rice Noodles With Chicken Ragout and Shrimp)
We eat pancit, or noodles, always — but especially at birthday celebrations, where the length of the noodles is seen as a promise for an equally long life. Among our many pancit dishes, palabok is the richest. The sauce almost takes on the texture of an Italian ragù, with the meat slowly disintegrating into a thick gravy that’s stained reddish-gold by achuete (annatto). The toppings aren’t decorative, but a crucial part of the dish: a whole regiment of hard-boiled eggs and poached shrimp, plus a tumble of fried garlic and crumbled chicharron (puffed-up crispy pork skins).
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes
• 2 pounds bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts (about 2 breasts)
• 2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
• Kosher salt
• 1 pound small shrimp (26/30 count), peeled and deveined
• 6 eggs
• 3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola
• 3 tablespoons achuete annatto powder (3/4 ounce)
• 2 large yellow onions, finely minced (about 3 1/2 cups)
• 8 celery stalks, finely minced (about 3 cups)
• 15 garlic cloves, finely minced
• Fish sauce, as needed
• 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
• Banana leaves, for lining the serving dish (optional)
• 16 to 18 ounces rice vermicelli noodles (ideally about the thickness of spaghetti, or whatever you can find!), cooked
• 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
• 3 calamansi, halved, or lemons, cut into wedges, seeds removed
• 1 cup chicharron, crushed into small pieces
• A few tablespoons of crushed fried garlic
1. Add the chicken breasts and thighs to a large pot. Cover with about 8 cups water (the chicken should be fully submerged), add 3 tablespoons salt, and bring to a boil over high. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until meat is cooked through and can be ripped off the bone easily, about 40 minutes.
2. Transfer the chicken to a bowl to cool, and reserve the cooking liquid. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin. Tear the chicken into bite-size pieces and shred into thin strands. Discard the bones.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the shrimp: Bring 4 cups water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Once it comes to a boil, add the shrimp and cook just until pink and tender, about 2 minutes. Pour into a colander, straining and discarding the liquid, then quickly transfer the shrimp to a large bowl of ice water just until chilled, about 2 minutes. Strain shrimp, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until use.
4. Prepare the eggs: Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high with 1 teaspoon salt, and prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Carefully drop in the eggs, one at a time, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer over low and cook, 9 minutes. Transfer eggs to the ice bath and let cool. Drain, then carefully peel.
5. Heat the oil over high until shimmering. Add the annatto powder and stir until toasted, slightly darkened and fragrant, about 1 minute. (The natural yellow food coloring dyes the oil a robust hue.) Add the onions, celery, garlic and 1 tablespoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Deglaze with 4 cups reserved chicken stock.
6. Add the shredded chicken and simmer, constantly mashing the chicken with a whisk to promote shredding until the chicken has braised and disintegrates into fine threads, and the sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes. Add fish sauce and black pepper to season.
7. Line a large baking dish with banana leaves, if using. Add the cooked noodles to the dish, top with an even layer of warm chicken mixture, followed by most of the sliced scallions. Top with alternating rows of hard-boiled eggs (thinly sliced crosswise into rounds) and shrimp, squeezing about a half a lemon over the surface or calamansi juice if you have it. Then top with a crunchy mix of chicharron, fried garlic, a few more sliced scallions, a coarse crack of black pepper and remaining lemons or calamansi on the side, for serving.
9. Beef Empanadas
Filipinos take snacking seriously, so much so that we devote an entire meal to it: merienda, which may take place midmorning or midafternoon, if not both. Empanadas are a great treat for this in-between time but also keep well at room temperature — the grace of food built for a warm climate — so you can graze all day. (My family used to buy these by the tray for parties, but it’s nice to make your own and store them in the freezer for later.) In these, a ground-beef filling is tucked inside sturdy but flaky dough, with raisins added early in the cooking to plump with the beef juices. There are variations on empanadas all over Latin America; ours rely on the potency of onion and garlic and exploit it to the hilt.
Yield: 40 empanadas
Total time: 2 hours
For the empanada dough:
• 2 eggs
• 1/4 cup milk
• 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 4 1/2 cups/575 grams all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
• 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), diced
• 2 tablespoons white vinegar
• 2/3 cup ice water
For the filling:
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 1 tablespoon tomato paste
• 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
• 1/2 large green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
•1/2 large red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
• 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
• 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
• 1/2 medium russet potato, peeled and cut into 1-centimeter cubes (about 1/2 cup)
• 1/4 cup raisins
• 3/4 pound ground beef
• 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon oyster sauce
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce
• 1/2 cup chicken stock
• 1 (48-ounce) bottle neutral oil, such as canola, for frying
1. Prepare the empanada dough: In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In a large bowl, combine the flour and 1 tablespoon salt, and mix well. Add the butter and incorporate it into the flour using your hands or a food processor. Combine until mixture is sandy. Combine the egg mixture, vinegar and 2/3 cup ice water, whisking to break up the egg. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, and beat with a fork to bring dough together.
2. Sprinkle a light layer of flour over a work surface. Place the dough on top. Bring dough together by pressing and folding dough onto itself a few times with the palms of your hands. Being careful not to overwork, split dough in half and form into two equal logs about the thickness of a small sausage, 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
3. While the dough rests, prepare the filling: In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high and bring to a shimmer. Add the tomato paste and toast, stirring frequently, until darkened and caramelized, about 3 minutes. Add the onion, bell peppers, garlic, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the potato and raisins, and cook, stirring, until mixture starts to caramelize, 8 to 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
5. Add the beef, increase the temperature to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir in oyster sauce and soy sauce until coated, then stir in chicken stock. (Mixture should be glossy but not overtly wet; cook for another 5 minutes or so to reduce liquid, if need be.) Transfer to a sheet pan, dispersing in a thin layer, and refrigerate until chilled, at least 20 minutes.
6. Fill a small bowl with some cool water for sealing your empanadas and another small bowl with flour for dusting. Working with one log at a time, remove dough from fridge. Cut each log into 8 equal pieces by starting in the center and cutting the log in half, and repeating that cut with each remaining half and repeat that step once more to yield 8 pieces, which will be the shape of thick coins. Using a bit of flour, dust your work surface. Round each coin slightly using your thumb and forefinger and on your surface with your hands press each coin lightly to coax it into a flat round shape. Switch to a rolling pin and roll each piece of empanada dough into a 4 1/2-inch circle. You can lightly dust and stack your circles off to the side or transfer them to a parchment lined baking sheet and chill until you are ready to assemble (they are easier to work with when kept cool). Repeat with remaining log. When you have all your pieces rolled out, you are ready to assemble your empanadas. Place about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the meat filling in the center of each circle, leaving at least a 1/2-inch border. Using a brush or your finger, wet the edges of the dough with water and fold the crust over the filling, forming half-moon empanada shapes, sealing out as much air as possible. Crimp the edges of the empanada with the tines of a fork to seal.
7. In a large heavy Dutch oven or pot, heat about 2 inches of oil over medium-high. Heat oil to 365 degrees. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, maintaining an even heat, fry the empanadas, turning frequently, until they start to bob, 4 to 5 minutes. (They should be crisp and golden brown, the pastry should be cooked through and the meat should be warmed through.) Transfer to a paper-towel lined baking sheet and fry remaining empanadas. Serve warm.
10. Bibingka (Coconut Rice Cakes With Banana Leaves)
Bibingka is a cake made of rice flour, so it’s naturally gluten-free, chewy but tender throughout, with a soufflé-like fluffiness. It’s traditionally cooked in a clay pot over and under hot coals, a difficult setup to replicate; instead, I pour the batter into a cast-iron pan lined with banana leaves, which char as the cake bakes, infusing it with their scent. (You can cut the ribs off the leaves to make them more malleable.) Nearly halfway through baking, the cake is topped with salted duck egg, an ingredient available at Asian specialty groceries. If you can’t find it, the cake will be more forthrightly sweet, lacking that sly note of brine. As a final touch, if you have a kitchen torch available, char the edges of the banana leaves, so a little smokiness suffuses the delicate cake.
Yield: Two 8-inch cakes (about 16 servings)
Total time: 1 1/4 hours, plus cooling
• 4 large sheets frozen banana leaves (from a 1-pound package), rinsed and thawed
• 1/2 cup/115 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
• 8 ounces/225 grams cream cheese, softened
• 1/2 cup/30 grams finely grated Parmesan
• 2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons/455 grams rice flour
• 2 cups/400 grams sugar
• 2 tablespoons baking powder
• 2 cups/480 milliliters coconut milk
• 4 eggs
•2 salted duck eggs, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise into coins (not ovals)
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees and center racks.
2. Line two 8-inch cast-iron skillets or similar pans with banana leaves: Set 2 large sheets in each pan, allowing banana leaves to overlap in the center and come up the sides. Cut off any overhang that extends more than 1/2 inch beyond the lip of the skillet. Melt the butter, and add 1 tablespoon melted butter to each skillet, brushing it to coat the bottom and sides, reserving the remaining melted butter for the cake.
3. In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese and Parmesan; set aside.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the rice flour, sugar and baking powder.
5. In a large bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, eggs and the remaining 6 tablespoons melted butter. Add about a third of the flour mixture and stir to combine. Repeat twice, integrating dry ingredients into wet ingredients, stirring until combined.
6. Pour half the cake batter into each buttered skillet and smooth each into an even layer.
7. Bake the cakes for 30 minutes, until set around the edges but the surface of the center is puffy and not fully cooked through, rotating the cakes halfway through cooking.
8. Remove the cakes from the oven. Form the cream cheese mixture into about 10 1/2-inch-thick logs. Top each cake with a few slices of duck egg coins in the center, then arrange five cream cheese logs on each cake, radiating outward from the center of each cake, like the arms of a starfish. (The logs will sink in lightly on the top, but should not sink in fully.) Return the cakes to the oven to continue baking for 10 minutes more, then increase the temperature to 400 degrees and cook until the top is a deep golden and cakes are fully set, 10 to 15 minutes. The cakes will be lightly domed and should spring back when touched.
9. Let cool 10 minutes then cut into slices. Serve warm or at room temperature.