Last week I made sinigang, a Filipino sour pork broth flavored with tomatoes and tamarind. Curtis had been complaining of a sore throat for the previous two days, and when he’s sick, he either wants sinigang (which he adds Sambal hot sauce to, so it clears his sinuses), or chicken and dumpling soup. [NOTE FROM CURTIS: It’s not just when I’m sick, I always want sinigang!].
For those of you who are Top Chef fans, you may remember a few weeks ago that Sheldon, the Hawaiian chef, made this dish in honor of his Filipino grandfather’s cooking. Sheldon’s sinigang was, as Padma remarked, prettier than the dish usually is. Most Filipino dishes, I’ll admit, are not the most attractive when served up. There’s not a lot of color contrast: brown is the most prevalent, sometimes set off by a touch of green. Dishes are frequently one-pot affairs, served family style and in heaping amounts. There’s a word in Filipino cooking, ulam, which roughly means “stuff you eat with rice.”
Though not always the prettiest, especially when measured by fine dining standards, Filipino cooking, as Sheldon said, is extremely soulful. Soups, in particular, shine – we’re not talking about consommés or purees. Soups, in Filipino cooking, are entire meals. I start with rice on the bottom of the bowl, and ladle in the meat, vegetables, and broth. Curt often ends (especially with sinigang) with a tablespoonful or so of Sambal on top.
I forgot to write down the exact measurements of what I did this time, so I’m guessing at the amounts. I also weigh my ingredients, so the count may be different for you. So a few notes:
- My onions run on the large side, almost a pound/onion. I generally want my aromatics (in this dish, the onion, garlic, and tomatoes) to be about 1/3 the weight of my meat.
- Use whatever fresh tomatoes look best, i.e. most red. I think the ripeness contributes to a more sour flavor, which is ideal for this soup.
- The tamarind broth packets are readily available at Asian grocery stores. Here in NYC, we go to Hong Kong Supermarket on Hester Street, between Elizabeth and Bowery in Chinatown. They look like this and are made by Knorr, Mama Sita and others:
- This time, I used country style pork ribs and country pork chop: these evidently come from the loin of the pig, and are more meaty and fatty than the pork spare ribs and pork baby back ribs. Check out Cook’s Thesaurus: Pork Loin Cuts for a more detailed description of pork cuts. In the past, I’ve used “boneless stewing pork” or “bone-in stewing pork” or a combination of both. While the fat in country ribs is nicely marbled throughout, the fat on stewing pork is frequently a separate layer; thus, these pieces of meat have often ended up tough, even when cooked slowly in broth. Who knows what part of the animal they’re coming from? (That’s a rhetorical question, but if anyone has butchering expertise and can actually tell me, I’d welcome the info! I hear they’re just the odds and ends that don’t fabricate cleanly into cuts, which I can deduce by the layer of skin I see on some of the pieces.)
- Since I didn’t have too many bones in my meat this time, I used a Rich Pork Broth stored in my freezer to substitute for 3 cups of liquid. I made this broth from Matt and Ted Lee’s The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners: pork bones, onion, celery, bay leaves, water, salt and pepper, simmered together for 1 hour and strained.
1 large onion
3 plum tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
3 lbs pork (see note above)
Water to cover, plus a little extra
1 Tamarind Soup packet
Baby bok choy and/or green beans
Dice onion and tomatoes; mince garlic. Sweat over low heat in canola oil with generous pinch of salt until onions are translucent and tomatoes have broken down a bit.
Cut pork into 1-inch cubes, if boneless. If bone-in, leave meat on bone. Add pork to onion, tomato, garlic mixture. Maintain heat on low. I don’t want caramelization here in the vegetables, or browning of the meat: for this soup, I want a clearer sour flavor. Salt pork with generous pinch. Cook pork in vegetable mixture until meat isn’t pink anymore.
Add water to cover, plus a little extra, so the meat and vegetables move around freely. Add a generous pinch of salt. We’ll be adding the bok choy and/or green beans to this broth later, so we need some room to work with. Turn up the heat to high and bring to a boil. When the broth boils, turn down to a simmer, and skim scum and foam off the top with a metal spoon. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming periodically.
After simmering, taste the broth. If it’s sufficiently flavorful, add tamarind packet. If not, add pinch of salt, then add tamarind packet. The tamarind adds the distinctiveness sourness and flavor to the sinigang; however, it’s much better if added to a broth that already has a richness and body to it. Allow soup to simmer for another 10 minutes, to mingle flavors.
Wash and trim bok choy and/or green beans. I use baby bok choy to keep consistent with the “not-having-to-mess-with-it” process of eating the soup. Otherwise, you have to lift the large bok choy leaves out of the soup and cut them on a separate plate. If you use green beans, put them into soup and allow to simmer for 2 minutes, before adding bok choy. We like our vegetables as green as possible, while still easy to eat, so we add only as many vegetables as we think we’ll eat in one meal. You can add vegetables easily in subsequent reheating.
When bok choy/green beans are cooked, ladle soup, meat, and vegetables over white rice in large bowls. If you used bone-in pork, provide an additional plate, fork and knife for guests to eat with. As I’ve mentioned above, Curt likes to sprinkle his sinigang with Sambal, a thick, hot chili paste, also readily available at Asian grocery stores. For extra sourness, he also likes to squeeze half a lime into his bowl. But I like to eat it as is, which I would say is most traditional, i.e. the way my mom makes it.