I confess. I am starting the trip reports completely backwards. Quite simply, my amazing voyage of culinary discovery, aboard Silversea’s exquisite flagship, Silver Muse, ended in Manila. And while I will take you to Bali and to Borneo and cannot wait to share with you the recipes and experiences that made this trip one of the most exciting of my life, I have to start here. Because the first thing I cooked when I touched down was this wonderful way to cook lamb. I’d first seen it at “A Welcoming Feast” I went to in Manila. Lamb Shank Caldereta. It’s not at all difficult. It is earthy and warming and a great introduction to the cooking of a part of the world that only now is getting its culinary moment in the sun. And it’s probably time to remind you that there’s a lot of sun and heat in the Philippines. Its temperature ranges from 70 degrees F to 90 degrees F and the average daily temperature year ‘round is 79.9 degrees F. So yes, this dish can grace your table as we head into our warmer months. So come with me as I visit Manila.
A police escort drove us through the incredible Friday traffic that greeted us when we left the ship. It was just ten o’clock in the morning when we joined a caravan of four passenger vans. Ours was the last to pull out and, as a result, we were in constant catch up mode while a Police Officer on a motorcycle weaved through traffic that seemed intent on blocking our path. At times he raced ahead, shooing aside drivers of pickup trucks, fleets of Jeepney’s, the unique to Manila mini buses that made their appearance after World War 2. Our destination the private home of one of the founders of the oldest Culinary School in Manila, which is just 30 years old.
It’s impossible to imagine traffic this bad and this backed up. Oddly, there’s no road rage here just a cacophony of horns and beeps and every imaginable conveyance being used to get people around in this enormous city population 22,000,000 and growing. Huge sections of it are filled with tumble down buildings, teeming markets, tiny store fronts and vendors on foot who weave their way through the lanes of traffic selling everything from snacks to toys. The city, like all of Asia, teems with the young. We had not a clue where we were going and with no use in asking since only one of us has never been to Manila before. And the traffic seems to have no discernible pattern. To make a turn often involves going completely out of the way only to end up back where one started but heading in the opposite direction. Skyscrapers appear in varying states of modernity. In this extreme and year ‘round heat, overhangs shelter windows in brutalist buildings which predate central air-conditioning. At last, we come to a tree-lined boulevard carrying us out this cacophony. We enter an area called Quezon City. To one side the Ateneo de Manila University, appears. And our wise-to-Manila friend tells us this is one of the premiere centers of learning in the Philippines. It certainly looks the part.
Finally, we enter a residential area. Our friend explains that we have arrived at one of the premiere parts of the city, the home of the wealthy and the privileged whose large houses are hidden behind walls and gates and guardhouses. We pass through one such checkpoint.
We have arrived at our destination. Not some clinical test kitchen but a splendid modern house, as stunning as any in any wealthy suburb on earth. Upon entering the first notable thing is a table in the expansive front hall laden with pictures and religious images. There’s Pope Francis himself. And the Virgin Mother. Just beyond is a living room which could be in Paris or New York—anywhere where the wealthy live among paintings and treasures and period and modern furniture. A bar serves lime juice cocktails and imported wines. The doors open to an immense dining room with a table beautifully set. Beyond those doors, another room has tables laden with an enormous variety of magnificent foods. Everything is stunningly displayed and many items are so beautifully decorated with edible flowers that being the first to sample them seems out of the question.
The Chef who presided over this menu is movie-star handsome Sau del Rosario. He is extremely well known in the Philippines as he has appeared on four food-centric television shows and is a frequent presence in Breakfast Magazine, a Filippino digital publication which exalts “Real Food. Real People.” Chef del Rosario is about as real as they get. He is here today in his role as Ambassador for the Center for Culinary Arts. Our hosts are the Trinidad family. It was Susana “Annie” Pascual-Guerrero and Marinela “Badjie” Guerrero-Trinidad who founded the Center for Culinary Arts. But that is hardly their only contribution to Filippino cuisine. Over thirty years ago, the Mother-Daughter team opened a casual establishment in a parking lot of a construction site where they served hot meal and sold take-out food for parties. They called the place “Cravings”. At the time, their neighborhood restaurant selection was pretty well limited to McDonalds and Shakey’s Pizza. “Cravings” took off. Really took off. Today it’s The Cravings Group (TCG) which owns and operates no less than 26 branches of “Cravings” as well as four more restaurants, two event spaces and two hotels. But their proudest achievement is surely their contribution to Filippino Cuisine through their school. They proudly pointed to one of their graduates, the first non-European Chef ever hired by the city’s 5 Star Peninsula Hotel. Allen Briones presides over the hotel’s 41-year-old signature restaurant, “Old Manila”.
Our lunch at the Trinidad’s spectacular home was a triumph for Chef del Rosario and for the many Culinary Arts students who worked with him in putting it all together. I’m sharing the menu with you and hopefully, as I continue my journey into Filippino food, I will be able to find and recreate some of these unbelievably delicious recipes for you. I will have help from Chef del Rosario’s (autographed) cookbook “Years of Love +Cooking” (AKME Publishing Group 2015) and Nicole Ponseca’s (autographed) “I am a Filippino And this is how we cook” (Artisan Books 2018). I promise you much more about Chef Ponseca in later posts, but today, I wanted to bring you the very first Filippino dish I made when I came back to New York.
Chef del Rosario comes from a family of four generations of chefs. His grandfather, his father (who studied at the Culinary Institute of America) is now joined by Sau, his nephew, Jay and his niece, Miracle, in carrying on the family tradition. His family comes from Pampanga, which is on the northern shore of Manila Bay. This area is renowned for its culinary arts. Fortunately for me, Chef del Rosario’s recipe for Lamb Shanks is in his cookbook. “Caldareta”, Chef del Rosario writes, “is a very popular dish in Pampanga, especially during fiestas, birthdays or during regular drinking sessions among men…men love to prepare this dish and they cook it very spicy.” Caldareta, by the way, means ‘stew’. I am happy to tell you that the Chef’s recipe has
a lovely warmth to it but the spice level is not an issue. One of the reasons I chose this was because the ingredients were all readily available with one exception: Kesong Puti is a Filippino cheese which I simply couldn’t find. However, when I read about it, a good stand-in would be Havarti or what I used, Paneer cheese. Both these cheeses stand up to heat and they add a very subtle vinegar-y taste which is one of the keys to Filippino cooking. The other major difference in my cooking and Chef del Rosario’s is that after the prescribed 30-minute simmer, my lamb was still as tough as if it had walked to New York from its home in New Zealand. Out came my Instant Pot and in 30 minutes of pressure cooking the lamb was as tender as can be. If you don’t have an Instant Pot, I’d recommend a nice long simmer of an hour and a half or so. Here is the recipe:
Lamb Shank Caldereta from Chef Sau del Rosario
A wonderful introduction to Filippino flavors. A delightfully seasoned sauce and tender lamb go well over rice.
- 2.2 lbs. lamb shanks
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Vegetable Oil
- ½ head garlic, chopped
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 cup tomato sauce or 5 tbsp. tomato paste
- ½ cup of chicken liver spread (sometimes sold as Chicken Liver Mousse. You can substitute delicatessen chopped liver or omit this ingredient altogether)
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 10 peppercorns, crushed
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 medium carrot, sliced thinly
- 1 jar or can of button mushrooms. (I found these in the canned vegetable section of my local market)
- 3 red chilis, de-seeded and chopped
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 medium red bell peppers, sliced thinly
- 4 slices Kesong Puti or Havarti or Paneer Cheese
- Step 1 Season the lamb with salt and pepper.
- Step 2 Sear the meat on all sides in a hot skillet with oil until all sides are light brown. Set aside.
- Step 3 Heat vegetable oil in a casserole large enough to hold the lamb. Sauté the garlic and onions.
- Step 4 Add the lamb and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in the soy sauce, tomato sauce and liver spread
- Step 5 Add chicken stock, peppercorns and bay leaves.
- Step 6 Simmer for 1 ½ hours or transfer ingredients to the bowl of the Instant Pot.
- Step 7 If using the Instant Pot, add the carrots, mushrooms and red chilis. Set the Instant Pot on High Pressure and set the timer for 35 minutes. Let the steam escape. Then remove the top, add the parmesan cheese and the bell peppers and use the sauté function for 6 minutes
- Step 8 If simmering on the stove, after the meat is tender, check and see if you need more chicken stock and add more if necessary. Simmer further until vegetables are cooked and sauce thickens, a total of 1 1/2 hours. Add parmesan cheese and bell peppers. Correct for seasoning.
- Step 9 In a non-stick skillet sear the cheese slices and use them to garnish the lamb shank. Serve with rice.