Monday, October 19, 2009

Broas, Osang's and Mango Icebox Dessert

Broas, Osang's and Mango Icebox Dessert

I grew up snacking on broas.  My mom would get cans of them from Quezon, Sariaya if I remember right.  I would have play afternoons with cousins and friends, gathering around the table for merienda, kneeling rather than sitting on our dining chairs, grabbing for broas, slathering them with Cheese Wiz, taking in bites alternately with Vienna sausage and gulps of Tang!  Horrors to me now but definitely not then.  Maturity, sophistication and all this hoopla about health ruined it for me.  The broas I still like but until fairly recently, I only ate the ones from Quezon.

Broas can be likened to lady fingers.  They are shaped the same and both have that thin sugar glaze on top.  However, the latter is tender and soft with just a little bite to it, more cakey than crisp.  The broas, on the other hand, are crisp and toasted at the bottom, fragile if done right.

Two years ago, I discovered Osang’s broas in Baclayon, Bohol.  A local told me that they were the best.  I arrogantly clung to the belief that the ones from Quezon couldn’t be equaled but I was desperate to take home some pasalubong.  I nonchalantly bought a bag, just one bag, took it home and left it on the kitchen counter.  Days later, I finally got around to trying them.  I fell in love at first bite. They were crisp, delicate with the right amount of sweetness, perfect paired with a steaming hot mug of coffee for me and a demitasse of thick dark tsokolate for my husband, sweet juxtaposed with bitter.  The bag went quickly and I realized that I made a mistake in buying only one bag.  On my next trip, I over compensated as I usually do when it comes to regrets in my life; I bought too much.  I gave away bags of broas to the people that I thought would truly appreciate them, my family mostly but I still ended up with more than we could eat in a month.  I had to figure out what to do with them.  I decided to tweak my sister's Mango Icebox Dessert recipe, using Tiramisu as an inspiration.  I came up with my own version, which has turned out to be quite a hit at potluck parties.

The recipe I have below is my personal recipe and it lists brands that I think work very well together.  I don't mean to advertise but yes, I am definitely endorsing them because I consider them to be the best available locally.  This dessert is full of natural sweetness from the mangoes.  It also makes a wonderful refreshing dessert for the summer, when mangoes are at their best.

Frozen Mango Dessert
1 can Milkmaid full cream condensed milk
2 bricks Nestle cream, whipped
pinch of salt
1 kg ripe Batungbacal mangoes
1/2 package Osang's broas
2 cans Philippines Best mango nectar

Cook the condensed milk into dulce de leche by peeling label off can and placing unopened can at the bottom of a pressure cooker.  Fill pot with water till it reaches an inch above the can.  Cook over medium high heat, timing it 1 hour after you hear the hiss of pressure.  Do not open pressure cooker until it is completely cooled.  If you do not have a pressure cooker, cook the can of condensed milk in a pot of simmering water for 3 to 4 hours.

Fold together dulce de leche, cream and salt.  Set aside.

Slice mangoes into 1/4" thick pieces.  Set aside.

Dip broas briefly one at a time in the mango nectar and layer in a square Pyrex dish.  Follow with cream mixture then arrange mango slices on top.  Continue to layer with broas, then cream, then mangoes ending with cream on top.  Sprinkle with broas crumbs.  Cover with foil or plastic film and freeze for at least 4 hours.

Serve frozen.

I just got back from a short trip to Bohol, at the behest of a good friend.  A visit always inspires such peace.  Maybe it's all that green of the fields and trees, crystal clear waters and simple lives; where life can be lived in moments, where days are long and the air is languid.  There are many places to visit where it feels like time stands still, charming and disarming.  You wish it stays that way but you realize that nothing ever stops, no matter how hard you try.

Bohol is at the crossroads of development, moving forward while holding on to its past, one foot in the future and the other in yesterday.  Its history and its natural beauty are its treasures.  A good friend and his partner are working with local communities to build lives and livelihood that work towards enlightened progress.  Programs that instill pride of place; preserve historical, cultural and natural heritage; respect the environment while making an honest living are in place.  Tourism is its anchor and Baclayon one of its enclaves.  Efforts at developing activities that will make people visit are currently taking place.

A walking cultural heritage tour of Baclayon is evolving and I had the opportunity to experience a run-through.  It starts at the baluarte, a lover's promenade of sorts, romance inspired by the sea; moves on to the market for some retail therapy, basket paradise to the uninitiated; segues to the historic Baclayon Church and grounds, a mainstay of all Bohol tours; and ends at Osang's where my story begins.

Osang's is right behind the church, accessible through an old wooden gate by the ruins of the stables when the ladies, the keepers of the  Church, say it is okay to pass.  Otherwise, mere mortals have to go through the street, at the periphery of the fence, an extra 100 meters or so.  It is in its original location, the old home and bakery of Osang, now bequeathed together with her secret recipe to her granddaughter Sylvia Maristela.  She cannot remember the year that her grandmother opened the bakery, only that she was still a little girl when her Lola Osang started to teach her how to make broas.

Sylvia continues to make the broas in the traditional manner, mixed by hand and baked in her grandmother's clay oven.  She begins by making the batter, a mixture of whole eggs, flour and sugar, in proportions that are the family's best kept secret.  No machines are used in preparing the batter to a consistency that only years of knowing intuitively can be achieved.  She pipes the batter by hand into aluminum trays that hold 10, using her index finger to keep them uniform in shape and size.

The tray of unbaked broas are then dusted with powdered sugar and baked in a charcoal fueled clay oven for a few minutes.

Once done, they are slow toasted over charcoal embers until they are perfectly crisp, bagged by  hand and kept in a large tin box ready to be sold.  How much does all this painstaking labor go for?  A mere Php100.00 per bag at the source.

Sylvia graciously offered a taste, straight from the coconut leaf spine racks, warm, toasty and slightly smoky from the ashen embers.  Delightfully irresistible I just had to ask for a second piece.

Maybe I will have that cheesy salty taste with the sweet broas again.  But this time, I'll go up a notch and use Imperial Cheese instead of Cheese Wiz. If you don't know what I'm talking about, ask your Canadian friends.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hainanese Chicken Rice

My first taste of Hainanese Chicken Rice was at the coffee shop of this hotel at the then South Superhighway in Makati. The hotel is long gone but its building still stands, tired and forlorn, converted into commercial spaces and offices. I can't remember its name but recalling it dates me, I know. It doesn't matter. What does matter is my memory of that first bite - tasty, moist morsels of chicken, bathed in 3 sauces of black sweet soy, yellow pungent ginger and red tangy chili with rice shiny and redolent with chicken flavors. I returned to the restaurant many times thereafter, never tiring of the dish, occasionally pairing it with a Char Siew-Crispy Pork combination.

I mourned the hotel's demise but soon found myself traveling many times to the place of worship of Chicken Rice - Singapore. This was way before the internet and blogs, where research depended on knowing whom to ask and picking up the right newspaper or magazine article. I was told then that the end all and be all of Hainanese Chicken Rice was at the Chatterbox of the Mandarin Hotel on Orchard Road. I tried it and didn't agree. Being a novice at food tripping, I wasn't very adventurous and chose to sulk, lick my wounds and vow to return another day. Thus began my journey of finding the perfect Hainanese Chicken Rice. There was Bun Tong Kee which did assuage my disappointment somehow. But I was chasing after a taste memory and every chance I had, I sampled many versions of Chicken Rice. My Singapore friends were amused and some totally baffled. I once chose Chicken Rice over Angus Prime Rib Roast Beef at the lunch buffet of the Pan Pacific causing our host to exclaim, "I should have brought you to the hawker's center instead and paid less than the cost of your drink at this restaurant!", shaking his head in disbelief. He never got it but he went along and presented me with a bottle of chili sauce for Hainanese Chicken Rice at the awards ceremony of our farewell dinner, eliciting much applause from the audience.

I had a business colleague in the know, Simon was his name, and he indulged me, always ready with a list of restaurants to try. I was pretty extreme, almost fanatical in my search. He told me about a restaurant that was featured in the Straits Times and anointed as the best in Singapore for Chicken Rice. I had a trip to Jakarta coming up and I purposely chose to fly Singapore Airlines so that I could stop in Singapore on the way back, a 4-hour layover just for lunch. Shades of a jet-setter's lifestyle, a moment of insanity or just plain katakawan. Simon picked me up at the airport, drove me to the restaurant, stuffed me with Chicken Rice till I couldn't breathe and drove me back. It was one of the best, if not the best. But silly me. I don't remember the name nor the place, confident that I would always have Simon around to take me. But he quit before I could return and I don't know where to find him and everyone else that I have met have no clue where Simon took me.

I've tried most of those listed in the Makan guide, some better than most and while I still behave like a mad person in search of the perfect bite, I've been generally happy with what I have tried over the years. I have never found one in the Philippines that makes me smile so I have made it a part of my family's food at home, our comfort food to share with friends or just when we have a hankering for it. I have scoured and bought many cookbooks and gotten tips from mothers of Singapore friends and colleagues, as well as chefs and cooks, hoping to finally, finally get it. Through the years, I have come to understand that it is as ordinary as adobo is to us, so simple yet so popular. Everyone has a secret - from the sauce to the chicken. Everyone has a special technique. I have since adopted the many secrets that I have learned in my version. I still don't think it's perfect but it definitely is a good one. Oftentimes, it's the journey of discovery that makes it special.

Here's my personal recipe of Hainanese Chicken Rice. I am sure that you will find a way to make it special and personal.

Hainanese Chicken Rice

1 whole chicken, preferably 1.5kg and above, cleaned, with fat intact
1 whole ginger, palm-size, brushed and washed, unpeeled or peeled, smashed once with a mallet
6 cloves garlic, smashed once with a pestle or a knife
1 bunch green onions, roots and dark green parts discarded
sesame oil
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into sticks
soy sauce
1 bunch coriander, washed, stems removed
sweet soya sauce
chili sauce for Hainanese Chicken

Add ginger, garlic and green onions to a large pot of water. Bring to a boil. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add chicken and a large pinch of salt. Return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium high, cover pot with its lid and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off heat. Do not remove lid. Set aside until pot is cool to the touch, about 2-3 hours.

Prepare ginger sauce. Recipe below.

Cook chicken rice. Recipe below.

Remove chicken from pot and drain. Chicken should still be warm. Rub inside and out with salt and sesame oil. Set aside 5 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Debone and chop.

Arrange cucumber sticks on platter. Top with chicken then drizzle with chicken broth mixed with a dash of soy sauce. Garnish with coriander.

Serve with the 3 sauces - ginger, sweet soya and chili and steaming hot chicken rice.

Serves 4-6.

Ginger Sauce
1 whole ginger, peeled
1/2 tsp green onions (light green parts only), chopped
pinch of salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sesame oil

Grate ginger, discarding fibrous parts. Mix with green onions and salt.

Heat vegetable oil in a pan till smoking then add sesame oil quickly. Remove from heat and pour hot oil over ginger mixture. You will hear the ginger sizzle and sear. Mix well and serve.

Chicken Rice
1" pc of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup rice, washed and drained
2 cups chicken broth

In a pot over medium high heat, heat vegetable oil. Saute ginger and garlic until fragrant and begins to turn brown. Discard ginger and garlic. Add rice and stir until grains are covered in oil. Add broth and cover pot with lid. Simmer until rice is cooked.

Notes: I have been told by many Singapore chefs and home cooks that the true secret to Chicken Rice is the chicken. It must be at least 1.5kg so that it is plump. The chickens in Singapore have a lot of fat compared to what we get in the Philippines. It could be the breed or the feed or both. We just don't have the same thing so there is no way we can duplicate their Hainanese Chicken Rice. The most we can do is come close. It is also very difficult, if not impossible to find chicken that is 1.5kg in the regular markets and supermarkets so just get the biggest that you can find. I like using the Premium Bounty Fresh that is vacuum packed since they seem plumper than most. I've also tried using the free-range chickens from Abra and got terrible results. The chicken is too lean and muscular resulting in a dry and tough dish. You will notice that I use vegetable oil for the rice. Singapore hawker cooks use oil rendered from chicken fat so you get that full flavor of chicken. But at home, I'm more careful with my arteries so I substitute vegetable oil. I've also used Jasponica brown rice in place of polished white rice. So for those that have chosen to go brown like myself and my family, it truly works.