Gourmet goddess Beth Romualdez calls Bicol her home region. In her book Cooking Lessons, she recalls cooking “Tinutungang Manok” : It made a world of difference that the native chicken was newly slaughtered and the saba bananas (plantains) and coconuts were freshly picked. This being a traditional dish, the procedure uses a technique—burning the coconut shells—that can be difficult in a modern kitchen. While dry-toasting the grated coconut meat in a wok can be done instead, the aroma and flavors will be different.
Adobong Manok sa Sinunog na Niyog
(Braised Chicken in Charred Coconut)
by Beth Romualdez
“Cooking Lessons” (Anvil Publishing 2004)
4 empty coconut shells
2 mature coconuts, grated
2 cups warm water
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled and crushed
1 small onion, sliced
1 whole native or free range chicken, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp whole peppercorns, coarsely ground
1 stalk lemongrass (tanglad), pounded
Salt to taste
3 green saba bananas (plantains), peeled and sliced
1. Prepare charcoal: Ignite the empty coconut shells and allow to burn down to glowing embers. Transfer the embers to a stainless steel basin and cover with half of the grated coconut. Fan the embers so these will continue to burn. Toast the grated coconut just to the point before it burns, then transfer to a plate and discard embers.
2. Mix the toasted coconut with the rest of the grated coconut. Extract a total of 2 cups of coconut milk. Do this by adding 1 cup of warm water to the coconut and squeezing out the milk for the first extraction. Add 1 cup of water for the second extraction. Set aside the two extractions separately.
3. In a skillet, heat the cooking oil, fry the garlic lightly and add the onion. Add the chicken and saute, stirring frequently to ensure even cooking.
4. Add the vinegar, peppercorns and lemongrass. Season with salt. Continue cooking until chicken is almost dry.
5. Add the coconut milk (second extraction) and when it starts to boil, reduce heat to medium. Cook until chicken is fork tender.
6. Halfway through the cooking, add the remaining milk (first extraction) and the diced saba bananas. Continue cooking until the saba is cooked and the coconut milk is reduced and thickened. Remove from heat when oil forms on top.
Beth Romualdez’s tips:
Use only coconut shells and not store-bought charcoal for toasting the grated coconut.
The toasted coconut should smell slightly smoky, and taste slightly sweetish.
You need not burn the grated coconut as this will make the coconut milk black, bitter and unappealing.
The coconut (from) the resulting coconut milk should be slightly gray with black specks.
Native or free-range chicken is best used for this dish as it is more flavorful.