And, that’s an irony for someone like Millie Reyes.
Reyes, having been in the food business for 45 years now, has been magically whipping up all things gourmet, to the delight of her patrons. She has done catering for some of the most important people in the world, including the now Blessed John Paul II (on both his Philippine visits), US presidents Lyndon Johnson and George H.W. Bush, Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, Philippine presidents, ambassadors and for President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address cocktail party last month.
Her lola is Doña Engracia Reyes or “Aling Asiang” of the famed Aristocrat restaurant that has become a landmark on Roxas Blvd., Manila, and a food institution for generations of Filipinos.
But, at home with family, she prefers fuss-free dishes like adobo.
“It’s a hand-me-down recipe from my lola,” Reyes proudly says.
“It’s a traditional chicken and pork adobo with vinegar, garlic, whole peppercorns and bay leaf but her secret ingredients are the soy sauce and chicken liver,” she adds. “My lola had a way of playing around with food. She never measured ingredients, but her dishes turned up perfect each time.”
All the ingredients, Reyes explains, are simply placed in a pot, covered and simmered for hours. Sometimes, with the long period of cooking, the chicken meat disintegrates into strips floating with the lard, but it tastes deliciously the same.
At times, for better presentation and to keep the chicken intact, Reyes would cook the chicken separately from the pork.
She usually pairs her chicken-pork adobo with paksiw na isda or paksiw na gulay.
“This adobo is so easy to do.” she says. “You can leave it for a while when you’re dressing up or cleaning the house or doing something. You know if it’s already cooked when you can almost smell the aroma of the adobo.”
“I remember when I was studying in Switzerland (Ecole Hoteliere de la Societe Suisse des Hoteliers), the entire building where I stayed would smell adobo as the aroma wafted through the air.”
Her late dad, Joe Reyes, Aling Asiang’s fifth child (Aling Asiang had 16 children, only 11 lived into adulthood), would also cook an adobo similar to his mom’s version.
“My dad was the partner of my lola when Aristocrat was still starting then, probably because he was already of age to work, while others were too old or still too young to be involved,” says Reyes.
“He would say my lola would put chicken liver to thicken the sauce. They both loved adobo with lots and lots of sauce and with very, very dark sauce.”
However, Reyes can’t take too much liver in her food since she develops rashes afterwards. Her daughter, Karla, has also an allergy to liver.
“When I cook adobo at home, I omit the liver. I would cook adobo with liver only upon the request of my dad.”
She would cook about 1.2 k chicken with half kilo of pork. And, since she’s been in the chow business for decades, she has concocted various adobo recipes, such as prawns with adobo sauce, eel adobo, adobong turmeric, adobong manok sa gata, etc.
“I research a lot and I always try new ingredients,” Reyes says. “I sometimes use sukang Iloko for my adobo which is so fantastic.”
Reyes, with daughter Karla, is now busy running The Plaza restaurant on 4/F, Home Section of Rustan’s Makati. Here, they’ve made available their chicken-pork adobo and adobo pork spareribs through its Go Gourmet quick frozen meal.
“It’s a ready-to-eat adobo in a pouch,” says Reyes. “Just boil the whole bag or microwave it and you have instant meal. It’s for people who are always on the go.”
Chicken and Pork Adobo
1 k pork, adobo cut
1 whole chicken, adobo cut
1/2 c soy sauce
1 c vinegar
1 head garlic (crushed, whole or minced, as you wish)
10 whole peppercorns
1-2 Laurel leaf
Water to taste
Put all ingredients in a stock pot. Simmer, without stirring, in low fire for about 1 hour. Season to taste. Serve with atchara and steamed white rice.
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