Friday, January 17, 2014

The Pindang Revisited

I was among the more fortunate to have had the opportunity to sample a sinfully diverse selection from the cornucopia of festive culinary delights traditionally offered by most Filipinos to family members, relatives and friends for copious, if not gluttonous, consumption during the recent Christmas and New Year celebrations. That meant mouthfuls of the ever ubiquitous ham (of several kinds), repeated generous servings of pasta thick with sauces of both the red and white varieties including one or two others of an indeterminate shade in between these two extremes, countless portions of chicken thighs and wings both roasted or fried in batter and slices of fish either grilled, steamed or stewed with fresh veggies in the traditional way.

I have not even included in the first list list the obligatory chocolate and cheese cakes, whole wheat bread loaves with raisins, chocolate doughnuts, bibingkang kanin (rice cakes topped with caramelized coconut cream), empanadas (pastry stuffed with meat, vegetables and egg slices) and a multitude of other desserts and side dishes. The often excessive enthusiasm and unusual profligacy even normally frugal Filipino families put into preparing for the orgies of feasting during the Yuletide and year-ender festivities never ceases to amaze me.

Yet for the breakfasts whether it is near the end of the old year, the beginning of the new one or anytime for that matter, nothing for me still conjures the most gustatory anticipation and the exquisite mouthwatering thrill than the scrumptious, sweet-salty crunchy goodness of my mother's homemade pindang.

I have written some years ago of this sun-dried meat delicacy (see here) and have described how much a sentimental part of my rather rural and countryside lifestyle here in Lianga this quintessential Filipino dish was, is and will always be. Pindang can be made from pork meat or beef (carabao or water buffalo beef, in particular, yields a dark, chewy pindang) But the best pindang, in my view (an opinion greatly influenced by my late father), is made from the meat of the wild pig.

In my early childhood during the 1960's and 70's, these undomesticated cousins of the porkers which we used to raise in our backyard here in Lianga roamed the then still dense forests around the foothills that surrounded this town and its sister communities. Once in a while, the hunters would come to town and sell off the carcasses of the wild pigs they had shot or caught in traps along the thickly forested mountain trails. From these fierce and savagely combative, stiff-bristled, tusked versions of the more docile swine ordinary folks like me were more acquainted with came the dark meat that was highly sought after by many locals.

The pindang from the wild pig was leaner, less fatty and, therefore, tougher than those sourced from the usual pork but there was a gamey and subtle pungent flavor to it that was strangely irresistible to the taste buds unless you are one of the more picky or less adventurous souls who are repelled by its rather exotic taste and aroma. Nowadays, of course, wild pig meat is a rarity and I have no idea if there is even anyone here who still makes pindang from it.

Even Mama at present seldom makes pindang any more from freshly slaughtered pig meat (like she used to do so in the past). The reason is that the work that goes into the preparation process is as laborious as it is tedious. The meat has to be cleaned thoroughly and meticulously separated from the skin and fat layers and then sliced into thin, manageable slices. The tough and largely inedible connective tissues must also be excised using a sharp knife and a deft surgeon's touch.

The less choice and tougher cuts of pork meat may also require tenderizing which meant cutting them across the grain and then pounding the cuts to submission with a specially made meat mallet equipped with a wicked metal head whose striking surface was scored by rows of rather blunt and shallow spikes. The dull, pounding sound it made when used had a rather ominous, emphatic thud to it that usually caused me, as a young lad, to shudder every time with a vague sense of apprehension.

The meat slices are then marinated in equal amounts of salt and sugar finished off with a dusting of choice spices and then set out to dry for a day or so in the hot sun and warm air on improvised frames made of chicken wire and bamboo supports which were hanged from vacant clotheslines. When sufficiently dried to a dark hue and hard waxy consistency, they were then packed into sealed plastic containers and stored in the refrigerator, ready anytime to be pan fired or broiled in charcoal when desired.

Now in her seventies, Mama has ingeniously found a way to let us, her children and grandchildren, enjoy pindang with the minimum of fuss and and effort. When visiting the city, she buys from meat shops several kilos of pork belly meat cut bacon style into long and thin strips. She marinates the meat and then dries them in the sun in the usual way. Served piping hot after being deep fried in oil, this new version of the classic pindang is now a much sought after taste treat whenever our family gets together.

Crisp to the bite and golden-brown like bacon, the hint of sweetness is contrasted by the slight salty tang, the whole gamut of flavors enhanced by the juicy fat layers in the meat. It is not, of course, the classic pindang of old but it is a more than worthy approximation or substitute for an old yet beloved meaty breakfast treat whose rustic yet seductive appeal continues to wow the taste buds of generations past and present in this part of the world.


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