By Chef Gene Gonzalez
In celebration of Anthony Bourdain Day last June 25, our kitchen team decided to serve the grand cocido lunch—what Anthony enjoyed during his stay at Cafe Ysabel in 2008—all throughout the week.
Long before the scheduled episode taping, we thought about preparing a lunch to serve during our family Sunday meals. That long shoot started early morning with Judy Ann Santos on the Spanish side of Filipino cooking ending at past lunchtime.
My son, Chef Gino, and I projected that Anthony and his crew would stay on for possibly a quick lunch. Knowing that he liked family recipes and rustic flavors, we decided to serve him our cocido sulipeño, only served on certain Sundays. This hearty dish is similar to the French boeuf bouilli and the Italian bollito misto. The cocido, of course, needed a few days of preparation. Even if the dish is, simply put, a one-pot dish, full and hearty flavors have to be achieved by the curing and fermentation of certain elements to make this dish a very tasty experience. Pig’s feet are brined for minimal fermentation while a duck is salted and dried to maximize on the fifth flavor experience. Cocido, which features other mixed meats such as marbled beef or beef with tasty connective tissue, ham, chicken chorizo, blood sausage, and pork sausage are boiled into a rich stock.
The chorizos are made with a great dose of Murcian paprika to give them that strong flavor. The fresh pork sausage, which is herb and garlic based, needs three days of boiling in high heat to cure in refrigerated temperature. This develops the character of the fresh sausage as the blood sausage needs a good dose of sweet wood spices to balance the strong flavors of the other cured meats. The vegetables are added to widen the spectrum of taste. Cabbage, carrots, and string beans go into the simmering broth, which, by now, should already have the dimensions of flavor and textures we want to create. Plantains, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are unique components, making this Filipino version of cocido uniquely different from the Spanish recipe.
The sweetness coming from the saba plantains and yams, combined with the creaminess of potatoes, rounds out the sharp and savory flavors from the mix of meat and vegetables. Pre-softened beans and chickpeas that should melt in the mouth add to the textures.
Bourdain seemed impressed with the first spoonful of this tasty broth presented with a steaming platter of assorted meats, legumes, and vegetables. That we had four sauces to choose from might have confused our travelling gourmet but he soon got the hang of it by doing individual flavor combinations.
He tried meat and vegetable combinations with sauces made from squash sautéed with garlic—fresh tomato sofrito rich with garlic and olive oil, fire-grilled eggplant blended into a sauce with onion and vinegar, and a unique Kapampangan vinaigrette with the goodness of meat and vegetables combining with the rich, strong soup served on the side that Tony found quite interesting. He pleaded with his crew to film this but they were all too busy eating so he just gave us the helpless open palm gesture and continued eating the cocido. Glasses of chilled Dry Rose and Red Crianza were poured but Tony stuck to his bottle of San Mig Pale.
I was a little surprised as they warned me that Anthony was not a dessert person but he was curious about our tocino del cielo version. He had recently tried the dessert in Portugal, which was based in pork fat. I mentioned that ours was butter-based and he asked me to pass the platter. He popped the whole dessert into his mouth, which shocked everyone since it took us many little spoonfuls to consume this sweet confection. He said, “I’m going to have another,” and in another minute, he had finished three. He then put his attention on a small scoop of our carabao milk ice cream. I really don’t know how he and his crew could have worked that afternoon after the massive meal.
The next day, I put together what was left of the meal and the broth into a hearty soup known as ropa vieja.
I have yet to fully believe this international food star had visited and spent a great part of the day in our humble little restaurant and cooking school in San Juan.
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