Since we lived far away from relatives, most of our Noche Buena feasts were spent at home with few family friends dropping by after dinner and Christmas day itself was almost always a private gathering. As a child I remember there were only few houses in our neighborhood and the closest would bring over a bowlful of fruit salad and my mom in return would give a tray of bihon guisado (fried noodles). Everyone loves food and at Christmastime giving something homemade means so much more. But much like my online friend and blog contributor Erwin, I have fond memories of lechong manok at pritong manok (grilled and fried chicken).
Lechong manok became very popular during my late teens and just in time when our family reunions during the Christmas holidays became a tradition. This annual get-together event has now evolved into a potluck party and kicks off just before the season ends. Though my dad prefers bringing the ever-easy hamonado (fatty pork cooked with pineapple chunks and spices, photo shown below) and my titas usually request for my sister to bring fresh mussels for grilling or baking (not to mention my craving for original chunky buko pie that only dad knows where to get), time and availability is a hindrance and the smell of grilled chicken along the highway always offer the obvious solution sans the creativity of a beautiful tin or basket.
But as a child, fried chicken was the epitome of all holy and great and festive in my young mind that I wasn’t the least interested in the other sumptuous dishes however fabulous and tedious the preparation may be. I could devour more than half a chicken – huge enough for the thin kid I was – brown and juicy with delectable crisp skin. I’d be in a corner eating with much gusto, without rice or any side dish but a bottle of ice-cold Coke and the adults won’t hear a thing. Antonio (Cean prefers that name now) is very much like the 5-year old that I was. He’d check out everything served on the table and choose only one that he likes and I can guarantee it would be fried chicken with plain rice over anything else. I just have to make sure there is a bottle of ketchup next to him. By the time the party’s over, his godparents/grandparents already knew what to put together for him – a take-home package of his favorite food that would be thoroughly enjoyed and devoured before the day is out.
There are many ways to cook pritong manok. It could be marinated in different ways, even stuffed with apples or tamarind, breaded ala-Jollibee or fried Pinoy-style which usually means adobo-style. Much as I love it anyway possible, there is something great and addicting about it when crispy on the outside but tender, succulent, flavorful and juicy on the inside. Think Max’s. Not every Pinoy’s favorite though and yeah it’s been ages since the last time I’ve tasted one. Do I miss it? Maybe. I guess so. But as the saying goes… every household needs a dependable recipe. Here’s mine… a very simple one.
Salt and pepper
3 to 4 tbsp of crushed garlic (optional)
Rub the chicken with garlic, salt and pepper, and marinate for at least 2 hours.
Heat about 4 to 5 cups of fresh oil in a deep casserole. When it is smoking hot, slowly submerge a piece or two. Do not overcrowd. Reduce the heat and continue deep-frying until golden brown. Sprinkle few drops of water while the chicken is still in oil to make the skin crispier. Drain and serve with ketchup, lechon sauce or home-made gravy.
Maagang pagbati ng maligayang Pasko sa inyong lahat!