Growing up, I watched my mom cook and helped her prepare lunch and dinner for the family. Even at a young age, I was never intimidated in the kitchen. I was 10 years old when I started cooking chicken tinola and pork menudo. We lived in the province, where the gas range was not very common, so I learned to cook over a kerosene stove, or kusinilya. I’m sure not many are familiar with that now.
It has always amazed me how fire and heat can transform raw ingredients into something edible and delicious.
Aside from my fascination with cooking, it was the household chore I picked over washing the dishes. So, my younger sister ended up cleaning after me.
One technique that my mom taught me was to always brown or sear meat when I saute. This extra step before stewing creates a thin crust and enhances the meat flavor, resulting in a dish with more depth. Professional chefs call this the Maillard reaction. My mom called it sangkutsa or rendering fat and releasing the flavor.
I went on to get a culinary diploma when I joined my husband, who was then working in Malaysia. In all our classes, we were encouraged to not just follow recipes, but make them our own, adding that extra step or ingredient to make it special. That really stuck. I now torch grated coconut before extracting milk for my laing, sear oxtail before sauteing for kare-kare and mount seared steak with maitre d’hotel butter, among other things.
When the pandemic hit, I found myself having more time in the kitchen and experimenting on recipes, much to my children’s delight.
My daughter, Samantha, encouraged me to start selling my food instead of constantly giving it away. I was a bit hesitant and told her giving the food saves me from the pain of hearing criticism, since it’s free anyway. But she was persistent and I relented eventually. So she set up a home-based kitchen, where we sell food only when we have the time, mostly on weekends.
My son, Francis, taste-tests my recipes. It’s been successful so far, and I am sharing one of my original recipes with you.
Roasted Cajun Chicken with Dirty Rice Stuffing
1 whole dressed chicken, cleaned, approximately 1.5 kg
2 Tbsp French mustard
2 Tbsp Cajun seasoning (See mixture below.)
2 whole onions, cut into rings
1 bulb of garlic, cut crosswise
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp paprika (smoked paprika if available)
1 Tbsp pink salt
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp ground white pepper
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp cayenne or chili powder
1 c cooked rice or adlai grains
2 pc Italian sausage or any local sausage like garlic longganisa100 g chopped roasted tomatoes
Chopped parsley and lemon zest
Prepare the chicken: Clean whole chicken and drizzle with lemon juice and add salt. Rub with prepared mustard, Cajun seasoning (this can also be bought online). Marinate for six hours, better if overnight.
Prepare the filling: Peel off the casing of sausages and set meat aside.
Saute garlic and roasted tomatoes in butter and add sausage meat. Cook till brown.
Add rice, and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Mix well. Set aside.
For roasting: Stuff the cavity of the chicken with rice filling. Do not overfill. Truss the chicken to prevent rice from bursting out.
In a nonstick pan, add 1 Tbsp oil and melt 3 Tbsp butter. Turn on heat and sear the whole chicken, both sides. Optional step, but this makes a difference. Drizzle baking pan with olive oil plus oil used for searing and line with onion rings.
Place seared chicken on top of onion rings and add a bulb of garlic cut crosswise on the side.
Add fresh thyme sprigs.
For baking: Heat oven at 200ºF and bake chicken uncovered for 15 minutes.
Bring the temperature down to 180ºF, cover the chicken completely and bake for 1½ hours. Make sure no steam is coming out.
To serve: Brush with melted butter before serving. Top with combined chopped parsley and lemon zest. Serve with the drippings and focaccia bread on the side. —CONTRIBUTED
The author is senior vice president and client service director at Grey Philippines Inc.
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