Monday, October 26, 2009

i love the way your underwire bra always sets off that x-ray machine

I'll make a lengthier post about Filipino cooking when I have time, but today let me tell you about adobo.

Long before fusion cuisine had risen to the heights of fine dining and trickled back down into southwestern eggrolls at your local TGI McHooligan's, it was one of those things that occurred naturally all the time.  All cuisine is fusion cuisine, just as every language contains elements of other languages, every culture includes modifications of other cultures.  American cooks sometimes pooh-pooh regional American cuisine because, even though some of it's as exotic to them as the food of Macau or the Pyrenees, there is this perception that there's nothing new in the US, that it's all borrowed from somewhere else -- germ theory, alive and well in the popular imagination more than a hundred years after Turner showed what a crock it is.

All cuisine melds and borrows and smears.  There is simply no other way to go about things.

Some cuisines fuse their influences more obviously.  Filipino cuisine includes Chinese and Spanish influences, mediated by the very particular pantry of an island kitchen.  Adobo, for instance, originally made without soy sauce, has been made on the islands since before the Spanish arrived in the 1500s.  Over time, the rest of the ingredients have been added -- garlic and peppercorns probably come from the Spanish influence, soy sauce from the Chinese, who knows about the bay leaves.

The basic technique is to take your meat -- usually chicken or pork -- and marinate it in soy sauce, vinegar, whole smashed cloves of garlic, bay leaves, and peppercorns.  There are variations with chiles or chile sauce instead of the peppercorns, or an addition of rum.  After a few days of marinading, you cook the meat -- either braising it in the marinade, or pan-frying it while reducing the marinade separately.  This is home cooking, so there are a million variations, and if you google adobo for a while, you'll find arguments about the right way to do it.

The adobo I made this week?  Straight-up traditional, and the sauce is the best I've ever had.  I mean, I'm freezing the leftover sauce, that's how good it is.

The thing is, the chicken adobo I started with wasn't so good.  That large hard chicken ... maybe it needed to braise more, but it had a weirdly dry texture that I wasn't too crazy about.  I don't know how to describe it.  I don't mean dry in the same sense as a regular overcooked chicken.  It was all right, just not wonderful.  But the sauce ... oh man.  Just from braising in the sauce, the chicken imparted this amazing flavor to it.  I ended up fishing the bay leaves out and pureeing the sauce to blend up the garlic, and added a little sriracha, and it's ... delectable, it's this perfect combination of tangy and a little spicy and rich ...

Using real Filipino vinegar helped, but if you don't have it, use white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or even distilled white vinegar.  Filipino vinegar is nothing fancy.  This is not about using balsamic or Minus 8, though I too am curious about an adobo variation using something like that.  But the basic dish not only doesn't require it, it would be distinctly different with it.

Soy sauce deserves its own lengthy digression, but the upshot is that a) different countries have slightly different styles of soy sauce, so a soy sauce like you have with your sushi is not quite the same as the soy sauce in your stir fry; b) the cheap soy sauces these days are made from hydrolyzed soy protein instead of being traditionally fermented from soy beans.  When I first moved here, I was amazed that though my supermarket carried organic spelt and ground buffalo, they had no traditional (or "brewed") soy sauces, only the cheap shit, but I guess that tells you how white New Hampshire is.  Thankfully, they now carry one brand of brewed soy sauce, and it's just fine.

So, what did I do with the leftover sauce, before freezing the leftover leftovers?  Well, the real question is, what did I do with the salmon heads?

The salmon heads were simmered for an hour, cooled, picked apart, and then the bones, gills, etc., were returned to the pot and simmered for the rest of the day, making a rich salmon stock.  Picking the heads apart gave me this:

Salmon heads, the good bits: 1

Those are salmon eyes, salmon skin, and salmon cheeks, which are succulent and lightly flavored, like the "oyster" of a turkey.  I could have gotten more scrap meat out of the heads, but in part because they were so cheap, I focused on the easy things -- and they were in fact quite easy.  The hardest thing about picking apart a salmon head is simply accepting that you're picking apart a salmon head, and then stop acting like a twelve year old and just fucking do it already.  The cheeks are easy to identify, the eyeballs rather moreso, and there are several areas of skin that peel off with just a little coaxing, with a lot of subdermal fat that will make it crisp up well.

Before simmering the heads, I removed the collars, which was pretty easy to do with kitchen shears, and smoked those.  Here they are before and after smoking:

Salmon heads, the good bits: 2
Salmon heads, the good bits: 2

The collar meat is fantastic -- slightly fatty, flavorful, succulent like crazy.

So this gave me a nice assortment of salmon meat, both smoked and unsmoked, and I combined some of it with leftover adobo sauce and roasted fingerling potatoes, along with some crisped-up salmon skin, for a nice lunch:

Salmon, potatoes, adobo

It's cold out, so I had to take that photo quickly, and the light is all weird.  You get the idea.

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