The Black Pig

Suggesting that we try a restaurant in Alabang to celebrate a few occasions was really born out of this feeling I had at the time to just wind-down and escape. Yes, it’s a watered-down concept I know. The three of us (Yedy, Euge and I) are car-less and from the north, so it was going to be a challenge. At least going there on a Sunday isn’t as much of a pain as a weekday trek. The Black Pig was waiting, and we were hungry.
 photo P1570862_zps5d9ad547.jpg
 photo P1570856_zps46d2fcc9.jpg
 photo P1570857_zps14685ea8.jpg
It’s a bar and restaurant that serves a slew of things, from charcuterie to Holgate beers. It has impressive industrial interiors. But we chose to dine al fresco. The light was so good and it was pretty windy. It was a golden day.

Breaking bread to signal the start of the meal is never a bad thing. And they have good bread.
 photo P1570730_zps5c0862f6.jpg
The charcuterie board arrives. We order it because it would be such a shame if we didn’t. Across the board (pun intended), the cured meats are all flavorful but the larger lomo, without the waxiness of the smaller cuts, stands out.
 photo P1570750_zps71e3a45b.jpg
Being a bar, they offer a selection of beers. They have a good sampler, aptly called Beer Flight. If that’s not poetic enough, let me just say that the Road Trip is my hands down favorite. At that point I was tempted to order more beer, but we had meals to devour.
 photo P1570747_zpsb16a2d52.jpg
 photo P1570774_zpsf7b041f0.jpg
Pork, beef and fish were in attendance at the table. The pork belly came with marrow. Writing this, it’s hard to be impartial if fat’s the subject. The same goes for the rib-eye. And although pork belly and marrow is a killer combo (literally), it’s the medium-rare rib-eye that steals the show. The gindara is a close second though, because it just crumbles in your mouth. It’s so delicate. Delicate.
 photo P1570806_zps6e04d49a.jpg
 photo P1570802_zpsf36ead5c.jpg
 photo P1570789_zps4cf4f40d.jpg
 photo P1570768_zpsc9dc107e.jpg
The desserts are a sight to behold. It does my heart good to see playfulness and whimsy in their plated desserts.
 photo P1570832_zps7d74e4db.jpg
“Which one should we start with?”, I asked one of the owners who stepped in and explained the desserts. She reasoned that we should start with the lighter fare and work our way down to the heavier options. I pursed my lips. So, we were starting with the calamansi crème brulee. Close friends know my extreme, unreasonable aversion to calamansi (and now you do too!) so my excitement was barely a simmer. I let my curiosity override my hesitation though. I was a man on a mission.

It seemed haute enough (also unusual) – complete with sorbet, foam and a tuile peppered with fennel. I use the little spoon to mix everything together, cutting through the custard and into the curd.
 photo P1570839_zpse883c191.jpg
I sample a spoonful and nod my head. It takes a few seconds for me to process that it’s actually pretty good. Very impressive, even. The fennel seeds add pops of depth to a tangy, but refreshing custard. Calamansi never looked this sexy.

Trying the coconut panna cotta after the crème brulee was a disservice to the panna cotta, because it felt as if it paled in comparison. It’s still refreshing, with the mandatory addition of pineapple granite, but I should have eaten this first.
 photo P1570811_zpsb502c1a0.jpg
 photo P1570836_zps02d990a9.jpg
 photo P1570847_zps251be575.jpg
The rum baba was a slap of alcohol neatly tucked into a yeast cake. As it should be. It wasn’t my cup of tea though. I’d assume that the chocolate praline, a geometric love song to chocolate from the wafer to the ganache, is their flagship dessert. And it’s chocolate, and its execution is in a way faultless. But the nuances of the calamansi crème brulee stole my heart and made me smile.

All things considered, the people behind The Black Pig do their job well. It’s a great place. Nothing mind-blowingly ground-breaking (kids, this isn’t a proper adjective) but the food is good, and in the case of the steak, gindara and the desserts, very delicious.

There might be some leeway for comparison to other similar restaurants. In some ways, you might be partial to the fare elsewhere. But with The Black Pig, Alabang has it good.

Advertisements

Pork Belly Lechon

When I was back home, I constantly reminded myself of my schedule. I may or may not leave so soon, I realized. There was really no fixed date, no pressing matter to attend to.

Then came the invitation for dinner, around a week after Jad’s funeral. We (my friends/classmates) haven’t really had a chance to talk about things out in the open. The situation was a delicate one. But the dinner had to happen. Naturally, I hosted it, and played the part of the cook. It’s a part I like to play because I think cooking for people who matter is on the list of things that feed my soul.

I didn’t want it to be complicated. My dinners have never tried to be uptight and I want it to stay that way. I love my people, and maybe that helps.

And I love pork. Strokes of brilliance on this blog have always involved pork, one way or the other. When I was thinking about what to prepare for dinner, a glorious way to feast on pork was on my mind.

And this, my friends, is glorious (if I do say so myself).
 photo P1520746_zpscb0b6140.jpg
 photo P1520786_zpsed14003a.jpg
 photo P1520789_zps6870d9dd.jpg
Porchetta was on my mind when I was preparing my list. I’ve always wanted to make it, and I did get a chance to witness how it’s done when I was in school. But I also found myself craving for lechon while I was home. Mom would relent and come home with a small package of chopped up pig for me. That may have happened more than once.

I thought about taking a nice slab of pork belly and drowning it in the typical lechon aromatics (minus the calamansi because I don’t like it). Roasting it on low for a few hours makes it dastardly fork-tender, and during the last hour of baking, cranking the heat up will yield a crackling so divine.

The result blew me away. There is no breakthrough, no secret technique, no new flavor. I just made damn good lechon, and that for me, was a new notch in my belt. And if I’m being corny here, I’d like to call it “pinoychetta”. I’m also clever like that.
 photo P1520757_zps65468844.jpg
All in all, I had two more attempts just to prove the first one wasn’t a fluke. The first one was a trial-run (my mom and her office mates were the lucky ones). The second was for the dinner, and the last was the big bang before I left.

The dinner itself was great. They loved the pork. Because they’re my friends, naturally they had to sing praises.
 photo P1520867_zpscb81e313.jpg
 photo P1520830_zpsfd9ccfca.jpg
 photo P1520887_zpsb60452e5.jpg
They were fed well, we talked until we had no more stories to tell, and one of my friends, Jam, received a birthday cake a week early. It was a heavy chocolate cake with coffee buttercream, studded with shards of almond praline. I didn’t bring my piping tips so I was rubbish with the rosettes, but they liked it.

It was also passed around for posterity and the July babies went nuts. Somehow bearing the brunt of loss seemed lighter, even just for a night. I haven’t laughed so hard in a while.

So this pork is a thing of beauty. It’s not something you would whip up on a weeknight (but I’m not stopping you!). Reserve a weekend. Prepare this on Saturday, wake up early on Sunday to start roasting it. By lunchtime, you feast and the next day, you fast.
 photo P1520777_zpsca9bddf0.jpg

Roasted Pork Belly “Lechon”

  • 1.5 kg pork belly slab, skin on
  • 3 whole garlic bulbs, peeled and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup oregano leaves, washed then chopped
  • 3 red onions, peeled and chopped
  • around 4 – 5 lemongrass stalks, sliced
  • the zest from 1 lemon
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • a little over 1/8 cup salt, plus more for an even rub around the pork
  • 4 tablespoons crushed black pepper

Combine all the aromatics in a bowl and mix well. Lightly mash everything together with the back of a spoon. Alternatively, use a food processor to bring everything together with only around 2-3 pulses.

With the skin side down, rub the mixture all over the meat. Roll the slab, carefully invert the meat and secure it with butcher’s twine (and lemongrass leaves, like what I did). It’s okay if there are a few pieces of herbs that fall off, you can place it back later. Rub coarse salt all over the meat, including the skin. With a paring knife or fork, poke the skin of the meat. This will ensure a nice crackling. Transfer it to a roasting fitted with a rack and the bottom lined with foil. Place it in the refrigerator to chill overnight. This will dry the skin, which helps the crackling form.
 photo P1530270_zps416f36a2.jpg

 photo P1520800_zpsdbb0155b.jpg

variation: this will easily feed two – three

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Just to be sure, pat the skin of the pork dry with a paper towel. Roast the pork for 5 hours. Afterwards, increase the temperature to 220 C, and allow the pork’s crackling to form. This will take another 30 minutes to an hour. When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before slicing. Enjoy!
 photo P1520711_zps4222bd9c.jpg
 photo P1520742_zps83176931.jpg

It’s Christmas Day!

Photobucket
By the time you read this, you’re probably just reeling from a deluge of holiday cheer. The Christmas season brings out all the fun and insanity that spills on all over whatever it is you’re preparing for the ones close to your heart. The days leading up to Christmas have been zany, to say the least. Sometimes I just wish I could take a backseat and just let other people do the work for me, because sleep is something I’d love to do right now.
Photobucket

But no, this Christmas is pretty special for me. There’s a force that brings me to the kitchen to make sure I make the most of the moment. It’s Christmas and I’m home for the holidays and on vacation, because my life is different now. It’s more chaotic, vastly different and really fast-paced. Deciding to shift careers has exponentially changed me. Home is more special and meaningful, simply because I don’t get to see my family that often. I love being home.

While I was in the kitchen, slaving away for two days straight just to get a dinner with my friends just right, I’ve been listening to Christmas songs mom loves to play. That’s one of the things I miss so much, because as early as November her holiday collection fills the house with songs both familiar and obscure. I’ve heard a lot of voices (better than mine of course) sing about the good old days, childhood Christmases and simpler times. I find so much joy in that because it makes me warm and fuzzy, a refuge of sorts. Thinking of that makes me feel safe like a little kid.

Right now there’s a stew in the oven, iced tea brewing on the stove and another ham curing in the fridge. Yeah, “another” ham, because the first one didn’t make it to Christmas day because it was so good. So there’s going to be ham on January 1st.
Photobucket

But days before the festivities have already begun, when I invited a few friends over for Christmas dinner. We had roast chicken, gratin, pureed squash, salad with homemade mayonnaise, seafood with garlic butter, and of course…ham. I blame them for finishing the ham. Oh, and Julia Child’s chocolate mousse.
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket

The bulk of them are either working as nurses or studying to become doctors. I can’t believe I could have gone either way if I stayed. It’s all good, at least it could still be a useful friendship. I kid.

It was a great night of food and shallow conversations. It’s comforting to know that despite paths diverging, nothing has changed.

So here’s my Christmas gift to you, because it’s not too late to make that ham for the dinner you’re planning for the New Year. You need five days to cure this, but the patience is worth it. Trust me. I will probably never buy commercial ham ever again.
Photobucket

From my kitchen to yours, may your feasts be delicious and conversations hearty. As Amy Besa would put it, “cook with much love and passion, and serve with generosity”.
Photobucket
Homemade Ham (serves around 10)

1.5 kg pigue/leg, deboned and skinless

Brine:

  • 1.5 liters water
  • 250 ml pineapple juice
  • 1 tablespoon + 1.5 teaspoon curing salt/prague powder
  • 1 cup iodised salt
  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar (or use a combination of brown and muscovado)
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • a few cloves

Braising liquid

  • 3/4 cups brown/muscovado sugar
  • 4 cups pineapple juice
  • 1 cup water
  • a few cloves
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

In a really large bowl/container, mix all the components of the brine together. Add the pork and cover with cling wrap. Let it cure in the fridge for 5 days. When done, drain the brine and run the pork through running water to wash away the excess saltiness. In a pot, combine ingredients for the braising liquid, heat it to a boil and reduce to let it simmer. Add the ham and braise on low heat for four hours or more on the stove or in the oven. When ham is tender, remove from the pot and allow the liquid to reduce until thick. That will be your glaze. Adjust the taste with pineapple juice and sugar, because it may get a little salty because of the ham.

When ready to serve the ham, pre-heat the oven broiler to around 180 C. Sprinkle a little brown sugar and glaze on the fat of the ham. Place it in the oven and allow the sugar to caramelize, around three to five minutes. When done, remove from oven and slice the ham to serve.

And if I’m being totally transparent, I went the extra mile and finally, FINALLY, lived a childhood fantasy. Commercial hams are actually pretty good, but that thin layer of fat on top doesn’t seem like a lot for a very hungry child who loves pork fat. I bought a kilo of pork belly and cured and cooked it the same way. This was the finished product. A glorious slab of pork belly ham.
Photobucket

I think I hear the choir of angels breaking out in song.