It isn’t every day that Manilans get to taste the cuisine of Iloilo, a province in Western Visayas known for its fresh seafood, hearty soups and delectable pastries. That’s why it’s really a treat whenever one of the hotels adds Ilonggo food to its lunch and dinner buffets.
At Mandarin Oriental’s Paseo Uno restaurant, that’s just what diners can expect starting tomorrow until June 3, with the hotel’s “Diwal and Other Ilonggo Flavours” festival.
The sumptuous spread will include classic Ilonggo dishes such as chicken inasal and kilawin na tanigue (fish marinated in native mountain vinegar). But even more interesting will be the grilling station. Surely the star of the grill will be diwal, the angel wings clams that almost became extinct a few years ago but are now on the rebound, thanks to more judicious harvesting.
With shells shaped like angel wings (thus its name), diwal taste like an upgraded version of clams, and when in season they’re fat and succulent. Also on the grill will be oysters from Aklan and grilled mangrove jack, a black, rather thorny but tasty fish locally known as managat.
Strangely, despite their city’s tropical climate, the people of Iloilo enjoy having hot soup with their meals. Chef Pauline Banusing, a graduate of Culinary Institute of America who’ll be working with Mandarin Oriental on this festival, enumerates batchoy, pancit molo, binakol and kansi among the soup dishes often found on the Ilonggo table.
There’s also the fondly named KBL, a consortium of kadios (black beans), baboy (pork) and langka (jackfruit) simmered in a broth soured oh-so-subtly by batuan. Chef Pauline once said this is her favorite comfort food, the dish she first seeks whenever she returns to Iloilo after a trip, and she’ll be preparing it for the Paseo Uno buffet.
With sugar being a major crop, Iloilo is likewise known for its sweet delicacies. Always a big crowd-pleaser is the yema cake, with its topping of egg-yolk custard and swirls of fluffy white icing.
Another dish chef Pauline will be preparing is the decadently rich lukon with aligue sauce, prawns in a sauce extracted from the fat of tiny crabs. Here, she shares her recipe for Inquirer readers to try.
(Ilonggo food will be part of Paseo Uno’s lunch and dinner buffet May 25-June 3. Price of buffet is P1,818+ per person Monday-Thursday, and P2,200+ Friday-Saturday, inclusive of the luxury buffet. Call 7508888 for reservations.)
Prawns with Aligue Sauce
For the aligue sauce:
½ c vegetable oil
½ c chopped garlic
½ c white wine
2 c taba ng talangka (may use bottled)
½ c clear soft drinks such as Sprite or 7-Up
¼ c atsuete (annatto) oil (see notes)
¼ c juice of calamansi
1 tsp rock salt
1 tsp white sugar
For the prawns:
12 medium prawns or ½ k large shrimps
1/8 tsp iodized salt
1/8 tsp cracked pepper
3 pcs calamansi
2 tbsp cooking oil
½ c prepared aligue sauce
½ c chopped spring onions
Make the aligue sauce: Heat vegetable oil in a saucepan or large skillet and sauté garlic for 30 seconds to one minute. Pour in wine and deglaze pan by stirring any browned bits in the pan (use a wooden spoon) and incorporating them into the liquid. Pour in the taba ng talangka, 7-Up or Sprite and remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Let mixture simmer for three to five minutes. Set aside.
Cook the prawns: Peel the prawns and remove the heads. Keep tails on. Slit open the backs of the prawns and remove the black veins running through the backs. Marinate the prawns in salt, pepper and the juice of the three calamansi for 10 minutes.
Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. Make sure oil is very hot. Fry the prawns for about three minutes or just until they turn red-orange in color. Do not over-fry.
Transfer the prawns to a serving platter and pat with paper towels or absorbent paper to remove the excess oil. Pour in ½ cup of the prepared aligue sauce. Sprinkle spring onions on top and serve immediately. (Or you may pour in the aligue sauce first on the serving platter and arrange the prawns on top, then sprinkle with green onions.)
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Use good quality bottled taba ng talangka, such as the ones sold in Cabalen Restaurant, Milky Way Restaurant and chef Claude Tayag’s brand, available in some supermarkets.
To make atsuete oil: Dissolve one tablespoon atsuete powder in ¼ cup corn oil. However, you may omit the atsuete oil if the bottled taba ng talangka sauce you’re using already has atsuete or is a bright-orange color.
The recipe for aligue sauce makes around two cups. Since only one-half cup is required for the prawns, you can store the remaining aligue sauce in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator or freezer. Bring to room temperature before using.
Chef Pauline says you can use the remaining aligue sauce for rice or even pasta. To use as pasta sauce, just add cream or gata to the aligue sauce then stir into the pasta. “This will be another amazing dish,” says Chef Pauline.