I have the utmost respect for Nick Rodriguez of Bistro Candon. His love for his hometown and passion for his craft make me even prouder to be Ilocana.
The Les Roches, Switzerland-schooled chef has made it a personal crusade to restore Ilocano cuisine to its grandeur, sparing nothing in providing those who are fortunate enough to partake of his cooking an authentic “GI” (Genuine Ilocano) dining experience.
He and I have made a pact to cook together once a year. It is an encounter I look forward to because of all the new things I learn. But, there’s no denying the fact that I love his pasalubong, too; goodies he labels “dying art”—cooked Candon sea salt, prepared like in the olden days; bagnet made from native black pigs; and Nick’s very own aged bagoong that he makes from taburkik or gray anchovies.
For me, receiving a bottle is comparable to being gifted with the finest bottle of champagne. Thick, dark in color, intensely flavorful, this bagoong contains the best flavors of the sea in a bottle.
This year we decided to prepare a traditional Ilocano Christmas spread.
Chef Nick recalls how Christmas Eve mornings at the Rodriguez household in Candon, Ilocos Sur, are spent preparing for Noche Buena.
“Papang loves to cook ulam, savory dishes, while mamang likes making kakanin, baking cakes and pastries.
“We would make soup from handmade noodles; sanglao (beef soup); papaitan (which in the past we called imbalikatad); kilawen kambing; pochero; morcon; dinardaraan (silky dinuguan); bagnet; igado; dudol (an Ilocano version of the maja blanca with a sauce that is to-die-for); leche flan made from egg yolk from free-range chicken; fast-vanishing pastry creations like the canotillo and masa podrida, and of course, lechon.
“Papang would also be finishing his jamon (Chinese ham), which took seven days to prepare, brined in rice washing, cooked in pineapple juice and glazed with sugar.”
Once the Ilocano Noche Buena feast was served in the presence of the whole family after midnight mass, it was, of course, worth all the hard work.
Chef Nick shares his family Christmas recipes.
Ilocos Sur Lechon
“This is distinctive for its stuffing of succulent karimbuwaya leaves (also karambuwaya or sorosoro in Tagalog), lengua de perro (Spanish–Filipino), Euphorbia nerrifolia L. (some euphorbia varieties are poisonous so please make sure that the variety you get is actually what is used for Ilocos Lechon. The leaves contain milky, acrid juice that gives the lechon a subtle tang.” The stuffing is delicious with rice.
1 whole native pig, about 10 k
1 c rock salt
3 tbsp crushed black peppercorns
½ k karimbuaya leaves, thinly sliced
2 c chopped garlic
Melted lard or cooking oil
Rub cleaned pig inside out with salt and pepper. Stuff the stomach with karimbuaya leaves, garlic and peppercorns.
Skewer the pig with a long bamboo pole and baste the skin with oil or lard. Place on a spit and roast over charcoal fire until the meat is cooked through and the skin nicely tender.
If roasting in an oven, put the pig on a large rack on top of a full sheet pan. Brush the skin with melted lard or cooking oil and pour 3 cups boiling water over the pig. Cover with aluminum foil and roast in a 350ºF preheated oven, basting with the pan drippings every 20 minutes, for about 5 hours or until the skin is browned and crisp.
Served with KBL (kamatis, bagoong and lasona or shallots) or liver sauce.
This recipe is for our kababayan who surely miss a good, first-class papaitan aka imbaliktad.
1/3 c beef back fat
4 thin slices ginger
2 c water
1/3 c spinal column marrow
3 tbsp first-class gastric juices of the cow (Chef Nick says that the secret to good papaitan is to make friends with your butcher so he gives you the best gastric juices. It is best to ask for first-class intestines and extract the gastric juices yourself.)
1 tbsp Del Monte vinegar
Salt to taste
1 c thinly sliced beef tenderloin
½ c thinly sliced beef liver
1/3 c thinly sliced tripe taken from the thickest part of the tripe (cleaned and blanched to remove outer skin)
Saute the beef fat to extract oil. Saute the ginger. Add water, spinal column marrow and gastric juice. Bring to a boil, skimming to remove scum that forms on the surface. Add vinegar and salt. Add the shallots, let boil rapidly for 30 seconds.
Add beef tenderloin, liver and tripe. Mix quickly to combine, then remove from heat at once.
Pochero ni Papang
1 k beef shanks, cut 1½-inch thick
8 c water
1 c tomatoes quartered
½ c onions
Fish sauce, to taste
2 large potatoes, quartered
2 saba bananas, peeled and sliced diagonally, 2”
1 c cooked white beans
5 Baguio beans, trimmed and halved diagonally
½ cabbage, wedged
Salt, to taste
Put beef shanks and water in a stockpot. Bring to a boil, skim scum, cook until tender.
Add the tomatoes, onions and patis. When almost tender, add the potatoes, saba bananas and cooked white beans.
When potatoes are tender, add the Baguio beans. When cooked, add the cabbage and cook until crisp tender. Season with salt.
Headed north for the holidays? Ask chef Nick to prepare a special GI menu just for you.