Sinampalukan Manok (Tamarind'd Chicken)

I’m as romantic as the next girl (I think) but when it comes to Valentines I prefer to spend it at home. That’s not to say I have something against this day of hearts and roses and such – I am not one to turn up my nose at romance. In fact, I think everyone should indulge! Goodness knows that we might be in a better place if we all took some time to cuddle instead of plot and scheme. And a day that makes us stop and be nice to someone else (or to ourselves!) is a good day in my book no matter how trite that sounds!

(side note: one of the things I love about writing in a blog is that I can go off-tangent as many times as I please and I can run-on sentence to my heart’s content!)

AnyWAY, Valentines = stay at home. Yes, definitely, or at least as much as I can help it. I don’t know how it is over where you are, but Valentines here is frenetic. Frenzied. Off-the-charts hysterical. Everyone is out. It’s impossible to book a table, and when you do the restaurants are packed. You can just imagine what this does to our already horrid traffic. A good day to stay home and cook.

But I didn’t! Cook that is. This Valentines C decided to cook for me :) Now, I have to say at this point that, although most of the time I cook and C washes up, it isn’t always that way. Once in a while C cooks and C washes up. Steaks, for example, are always made by C (unless I have a rub or marinade I want to try, but even then I don’t actually cook the steak). As is sinigang – the ubiquitous Filipino sour soup.

Sinigang is one of C’s favourite dishes that I never learned to he did. And how. He started by following a friend’s recipe and built his own from there. He is nowhere near the persona of voracious foodie, waxing lyrical about truffles and fennel pollen. He is still a jock through and through. But sometimes, when he suddenly sits up in the middle of the night to explain exactly how he cuts the eggplants for his sinigang or what cut of meat he will use next, I have to wonder.

So this is what he made for us for Valentines – Sinampalukan Manok. When Filipinos refer to sinigang, they are usually referring to a soup with vegetables and meat (or fish), with a souring agent added. Most commonly used is sampalok (tamarind), but around the Philippines they also use kamias (Averrhoa bilimbi), unripe mango, or guava to sour the soup. For the meat, you can use pork or beef, fish or prawns. There are a myriad of versions and combinations for sinigang but for some reason, when you use chicken, it’s called Sinampalukan Manok (literally Tamarind’d Chicken).

C doesn’t use a recipe when he cooks any of his sinigang but I can share the general framework for his Sinampalukan Manok: He boils some water (he uses a lot because he likes a lot of soup) in our biggest pot with onions (whole but peeled) and tomatoes (whole), ginger (peeled and sliced), long green chilis (sili pangsigang, whole), some gabi (taro, peeled), and patis (fish sauce). Then he adds the chicken. When the gabi is soft he fishes it out, mashes it, and returns it to the pot. This makes the soup really thick which is how we like it. He then leaves it to cook until the chicken is tender. When the chicken is almost done he adds labanos (radish, sliced), let’s it cook a bit, and then adds eggplant (sliced on the diagonal). And then he adds the sinigang mix*** (no, we don’t make it from scratch!). We taste and adjust seasoning accordingly – if it needs more salt he adds fish sauce, more sourness then he adds more sinigang mix, more heat means more chilis. We like our sininigang really sour (the type that makes your forehead knot) and really spicy. Finally he adds mustasa (mustard) leaves, which he says are the perfect greens for sinigang. Stir, take off the heat, and enjoy with lots and lots of rice!

We used the free-range chicken from our organic farmer (the same place we got our duck) so we had to cook it for much longer than our regular grocery birds. The meat had leagues more flavour though and the dark meat was much, much actual meat as opposed to poultry.

This may not seem like the most romantic dish in the world but it can’t be beat for comfort and warmth. And someone doing the cooking and washing up helps too! Thank you C for a wonderful Valentines! :)

***You can make your sinigang na sampalok or sinampalukan broth from scratch by pounding and boiling tamarind. One day we'll try that...but for now sinigang mix does it fast and right for us :) Sinigang mix is available all over the Philippines from the biggest supermarket to the littlest sari-sari store. Elsewhere in the world you can find it in any Filipino store (which you will find anywhere there are Filipinos – which means everywhere).