Sunday, March 14, 2010

Souring Sinigang

Carm tends the pot.

There are times when I wonder if we ever can really make traditional foods as good as our parents.

Sous vide onglet? No problem. Hydrocolloid that? Not a big deal. But toss me into the pot with traditional Filipino food and I might just screw it up.

With nothing left to do on a Sunday evening and me not really being in the mood to be alone, I head over to Chuck and Gen's swanky new house in the rolling hills outside of Westminister where Carm is preparing a pot of sinigang.

For the uninitiated, Sinigang is the sour broth standard of the Philippines. It can be prepared in a variety of different ways but it's always soured by the leaves of the tamarind. And since tamarind leaves can be a bit tricky to come by, there's always Mama Sita.

Sort of almost there.

Think of Mama Sita as the Hamburger Helper of Philippine Cuisine. In case you don't have the time or inclination to hunt down the elusive tamarind leaves, Mama Sita has a powder mix just for you. Most importantly, Mama Sita has somehow deduced the proper amount of sourness in the mix and it tastes just like your lola used to make.

Maybe I'm just stubborn. Maybe I'm just that "hardcore." Or maybe I'm just foolish enough to cling to some sort of arcane "must only be made from scratch" philosophy, but I've never used Mama Sita's mixes. I'm certain I've eaten dishes made by Mama Sita, but I've never used Mama Sita to make my dishes.

Then again, I don't cook Filipino food that often. But I should.

Indian tamarind paste. Not ideal for sinigang.

By the time I arrive, things are in full swing. Carm has already been to the market to gather ingredients but did not see the Mama Sita's so she went off-book and picked up a bottle of Indian style tamarind paste.

I should note that I like tamarinds. Give me a ripe tamarind and I'm gonna eat that sucker down. This Indian tamarind paste is tartfully sour but it's a paste made from the unripe fruit, not the sour leaves. It may sound like no big deal but the leaves don't impart color to the dish, leaving the broth clear. The brown paste of the tamarind fruit is slowly discoloring the broth into what could be beef stew.

Having never made sinigang before, I'm cast into the mix because the flavor balance has gone slightly pear shaped and we're trying to figure out what to do. The sourness is there but it's not bold enough. Maybe if we boil it down and reduce the broth the flavor will pop.

My peasant sized serving.

After about an hour of reducing, the broth still hasn't popped. Time to add more ingredients. More tamarind and the broth gets darker. How about a little more fish sauce for saltiness? Then some lemon juice for acidity? Ooops - crap. Now there's too much acidity. More Tamarind.

After quite a bit of errors and calculations, we finally get the sinigang to the right sour balance and sit down to eat. The extra cooking time has rendered the pork super tender and it's actually not bad - even though it has that unfortunate brown color.

Next time we won't have to invite Mama Sita - so long as we get the right leaves.

ph: Friends & Family

The Friends & Family Invitation.

After eight months of planning and working, on Thursday, March 18th, project hampden ceases to be and Spro Hampden will emerge in its place.

We invite all of our friends, family and readership to join us on this day anytime between 9am to 5pm to enjoy a coffee on us.

Spro Hampden
851 West 36th Street
Baltimore, MD 21211