Monday, November 7, 2011

Knuckle-head

Paksiw is not adobo. The true Filipino foodie knows the difference. Strictly speaking, the basics of adobo are boiling in salt, vinegar, peppercorns and garlic, then frying to seal in the flavors, then returning the meat to the original liquid. Adobo is usually cooked in a wok that allows the liquid to evaporate and create a thicker consistency. A true adobo does not have soy sauce.

Paksiw on the other hand does not involve any frying and is usually prepared in a stewpot.The best ones are cooked in claypots, though there is no prohibition against that for adobo.

Both however, have the same beginnings. Adobo and paksiw (whether fish or meat) begins in a liquid of vinegar (coconut is best) garlic, pepper corns, bay leaf and some water. Which would probably explain why some people confuse the paksiws that have soy sauce as adobo.

Both are Tagalog dishes, evidently as the use of native coconut vinegar marks a traditional Tagalog dish, as does the use of gata -- though famously shared with the Bicolanos. Which is not to say that there aren't any versions from the other regions, but that is a whole 'nuther article by itself.

A final comparison involves how foreigners see these two dishes. Some Chinese think that paksiw has origins in Chinese cooking, while the French see themselves in adobo. These are statements made by respective ambassadors at various functions. Perhaps it is because soy sauce has its Asian roots, while the method of  lightly frying meat to seal in flavors is a traditional French technique.

Paksiw na pata is a household favorite because it is relatively easy to cook and may be left alone to -- pardon the pun -- stew for a while, while the cook attends to other things, like writing her legal briefs or blogging. Also, pork knuckles are relatively inexpensive and may be bought at cut rates in the market. At any rate, this recipe is my mother's, herself busy with her orthodontic practice when she raised us and remains a favorite everyday dish.

Paksiw na Pata

1 to 1/1/2 k pork knuckles
1 to 1 and 1/2 C vinegar (add as needed)
3 T rock salt
1/2 C water
2 t pepper corns
1 head garlic
2 bay leaves
3 T brown sugar
1/4/ to 1/2 c soy sauce
250 g banana blossoms
oregano powder to taste

Halve the vinegar and water, add half a head of garlic, one bay leaf, half the salt  and half the peppercorns. Add the pork knuckles and bring to a boil in a stew pot. Make sure that the liquid covers the pork knuckles. If it doesn't, proportionately add more vinegar and water. Once boiling, reduce heat and allow to lightly boil in the covered stew pot for about one to two hours. Do not allow the liquid to dry up.

The resulting liquid will be scummy. In a second stewpot, heat up the remaining vinegar, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, salt and water. When the pork knuckles have become tender in the original pot, transfer them to the hot second. The first mixture may be thrown away.

When the knuckles are fully cooked, remove from the liquid. Add sugar, oregano powder and soy sauce, adjusting to taste. Return the knuckles into the mixture for another fifteen minutes or until the meat has  imbibed the soy mixture. Add banana blossoms. Turn off the heat after about five minutes. Allow the paksiw to sit for a while before serving.

As with any Filipino dish, everything may be adjusted to taste.

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