Puchero

by Kiko Matsing

A popular Filipino meat stew of Andalusian origins. Essential ingredients in the Philippine version include: garbanzos (or chickpeas), saba (Philippine plantains), and chorizo de bilbao. The sweetness of the saba banana and the chorizo sausage complements the tartness of the tomato base of the soup.

In a large pot, stir-fry onions (2 pcs, cut in wedges), garlic (4-5 cloves, minced), and celery stalk (2 pcs, sliced) in olive oil. Add beef, cut in stewing portions, and continue stir-frying until it is evenly brown, and the juices seep out. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add water until the meat is just covered, and then some. Put the lid on and let it simmer until the beef is tender (~1 hr).

In the meantime, pan fry half-inch slices of chorizo de bilbao, a sweet pork sausage from the Philippines (not Bilbao, Spain!) that is red from paprika, until its sugars caramelize. In the absence of the real thing, I would substitute either smoked ham or turkey sausage, and add sugar when frying to get the caramel glaze.

When the beef is almost done, add the tomato sauce and the cut vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and saba, and let it simmer until these are tender. Saba (or cardaba banana) is a stubby plantain from the Philippines especially used for cooking. The long plantains available in most American grocery stores will not do. Although both cook well when fried, e.g., in Cuban cuisine, long plantains are not amenable to boiling. They turn grey and crumble, unlike the saba which becomes more gelatinous in texture. The only place to get this is in the frozen section of a Filipino store, or simply use sweet potatoes in its place.

A wonderful, time-saving trick is to cook the vegetables separately in a microwave oven using a plastic steamer. The bottom part contains the water, while the middle, porous section holds the vegetables. In this way, each vegetable can be cooked quickly and be done exactly right every time. Just be cautious in opening the lid as hot steam is trapped inside. Use mittens!

Finally add the garbanzos (canned in water), the chorizo, and cabbage and cook for another 5-10 minutes. I like simply cutting the cabbage head into wedges so that these don’t fall apart when the stew is stirred.

Serve over jasmine rice, or on the side, with a refreshing glass of viognier.

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