When I was in Grade 5, my friend and I would usually have lunch at the school’s cafeteria for just Php 5.00. For that amount, we bought ourselves 2 cups of rice, a little bowl of soup, and probably about a 4- 6 oz of protein or ‘ulam.’ Those kinds of meals would be served to us in an aluminum tray similar to the plastic trays served by an airline steward, but a little bigger. Once we’ve settled to an unnoticeable and secluded space where we can gorge our eyes to pretty upperclassmen that had nothing else to do with their free time but spray their hair as high as Mt. Everest or gossip. We’d also purchase a bottle of pop for Php 1.00. Bottled pop was somehow kept cold in ice water and was dripping cold when it was handed and served to us. Altogether, as a young boy with parents who were tight on the budget, the meal was considered extraordinarily extravagant. It was warm, filling and most of all, it was a break from cold lunches packed in tight plastic containers. At that time, the microwave did not exist. Kids had to succumb to super packed lunch of rice and a little portion of ‘ulam’ of some sort all squeezed in a tiny plastic, square container purchased from SM. Of course, there was always the handy canteen of juice or water to match to push down that cold, sticky rice down our throats. Tetra packs (bricks) were still relatively new during that time and have not really gained ground into the mainstream. Bottles were the norm-juice, pop or chocolate milk. The lunch box, the canteen, and probably another ten textbooks and six notebooks were the usual load for an ordinary GS student. Upon reaching the school grounds, we had to lug everything up to about 3 more flights of crisscrossing, upward staircase before reaching our beloved classroom, greeting our beloved advisors, and saying our morning prayers before starting the day. Backpacks at that time were exclusively made only for travelers, and lockers were expensive to rent for the year; only filthy rich kids can afford one of those.
I remembered that time in school, growing up just momentarily when I was slicing, dicing, blanching and peeling about a sack of potatoes for almost an entire day just for back-up. These potatoes would be served according the dish indicated in the menu; much like the pinoy’s penchant for different variety of rice like plain, garlic, java, lugaw and fried to meet the daily starch requirement of the day. These potatoes were either cut for home fries, French fries or grated for hash. On a very busy weekend, a sack would only last for 2 days, tops. I guess it goes the same for rice eaters.
It was also two days before the much awaited Easter Weekend and the word ‘back-up’ in the kitchen was the only by-word of the week. Cooks had to be prepared for the unforeseen onslaught of annoying guests with countless modifications in their meals. While we suffer in the back prepping for the holidays, it has also become an obligatory ritual for us to feed regular guests their usual morning fare. We were, therefore, doing work for three times as much as the daily food prep requirement of the next day. We prepared back-up for the ‘back-up.’ Basically, that’s the reason why sometimes I hate the holidays. Workload is just tremendous and non-stop. It has also dawned on me what lives these regular guests of ours had lived at least for a day or even a month. We worked daily as an ordinary, tax-paying citizen. How about them? Anyway, I remembered the word ‘back-up’ when I was still in Manila driving, and somebody was ‘backing-up’ or reversing his car from the garage. The car had music or chimes while reversing just to caution passing strangers which the side mirrors couldn’t cover. That was totally neat. I don’t know if that still exist now that the internet and the camera have been installed in many vehicles, and cars have eyes and senses of their own. Here, only delivery trucks have those chimes while backing-up.
This pure absent mindedness brought me to write about a dish many Filipinos are very familiar with: Pork Chops. I love Pork Chops! I love the fat when it’s crispy like lechon kawali, and the meat when it’s really crunchy. I’d soaked the Pork Chop in a complex vinegar condiment or dip and flush it down with beer. That’s the typical Pinoy or Asian type Pork Chop; deep fried, a bit hard to the bite or crunchy when perfectly cooked.
Going back to grade school, the ‘ulam’ my buddy and I had was just a piece of deep-fried Pork Chop. It was very dry and very well-done, but we still ate it. We munched the bones of leftover meat through with our teeth and hands which our utensils can’t remove and pick, like a dog enjoying his piece of bone. We ate that small and thinly sliced 4-6 oz. of meat with 2 gigantic cups of rice. Imagine. Honestly, it was more than enough to make us happy the entire afternoon and sleepy enough in the classroom to listen to lectures. I just couldn’t recall anymore how we managed to fit a small cut of chop for 2 cups of rice. The peppery beef flavoured soup probably helped.
I was re-introduced to eating Pork Chop here much differently from how I ate and had it growing up as a child in school. I was mesmerized when they served me a chop medium, like a piece of steak; pink, tender and very moist. I also had some pineapple salsa or apple sauce on the side which unfortunately I didn’t really like or learn to love. It was sweetly strange and sour to the bite, but the chops were just so soft, tender and juicy that Worcestershire was enough to make my meal smile. The knife just went through it smoothly and the accompanying sauce was perfect enough to wipe off every bite on the plate. That caught my attention; never mind the rice. From there on, I became creative and thought about this Pork Chop dish.
2 thick or centre cut Porkchops
2-3 Sweet Oranges
Slivers of Orange Peel
2-3 shots of Whiskey
½ of finely diced Onion
1/3 of a cup of Chicken Stock
A Squeeze of Lemon Juice
Salt & Pepper to taste
2-3 tsps. of Brown Sugar
Optional: Honey or Maple
3 Tbsps. Of Brown Sugar
Enough water to cover the Pork Chops
1. In a pot, boil water with all the aromatics required in the brine. Let it cool and set the Pork Chops in.
2. Leave the brine in the fridge overnight or longer.
3. Pull out the Pork Chops, drain slowly on a strainer and/or dab with a paper towel until dry.
4. Preheat your oven to 325’C-350’C. Heat a sauté pan, and pan-fry the Pork Chops. Brown each side, remove from the pan, and shove them in the oven for a couple of minutes depending on the desired doneness of the meat.
5. Remove or discard some of the oil from the pan, and leave enough to sauté the onions. Deglaze the pan with whiskey, add the orange peel, and some chicken stock, and pour the orange juice or squeeze the juice from Sweet Oranges.
6. Stir and add some brown sugar and squeeze some lemons. Let it simmer for a few minutes and strain. Season to taste.
7. Pull the chops out of the oven and let it rest. Peel off the inner skin from another Sweet Orange and add them to the sauce. Garnish with Italian Parsley.
It’s nearly 1:00 AM here and I’m still awake. I’m usually down and out by 9:00 PM, but the day I just had was inconsiderably long. Despite the holiday weekend, the day was quiet. I just couldn’t sleep doing so many things for the last few days. My adrenalin went ballistic from too much activity. I had always hoped that I wouldn’t have to make those ‘back-up’ everyday anymore, and just concentrate on the line. Unfortunately, the line would die without a ‘back-up.’ Back-up was also coined by many when I was furiously dating about 15 years ago. I learned from each one of them. I’d occasionally think about it, but having gone through so much in the last twenty years of my life about dating make me really think again about that thought twice over, and hopefully, in the thought process find an understanding and inspiring woman along the way.
Anyway, today is Easter Monday and I was cut from work. It was unexpectedly slow. That was a major sigh of relief; a pause from that by- word for at least a few hours of what’s left of my ‘day-off.’ It’s time for me to watch some real Kung-fu films to clear my mind before starting anew with another kitchen tomorrow; my supposedly real, complete day-off (more darn back-up). I don’t watch as much Kung-fu films as often as I used to, but found really interesting Kung-fu DVDs in Chinatown before heading home, and just couldn’t let off. I had to re-energize my other passion. I had waited for about 3 months until some ‘new’ ones came out, and found several lined up on the back shelf of the store. ‘1911’ is next. Playing Kung-fu is my other creative side, by the way. I’d used it if need be; almost this morning. I’m dead serious about the preservation of traditional Chinese Martial Arts- Ah, big city life.
So ‘Back-up,’ Back-off (my other creative side talking)!
- 2 thick or centre cut Porkchops
- 2-3 Sweet Oranges
- Slivers of Orange Peel
- 2-3 shots of Whiskey
- ½ of finely diced Onion
- ⅓ of a cup of Chicken Stock
- A Squeeze of Lemon Juice
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- 2-3 tsps. of Brown Sugar
- Optional: Honey or Maple
- Brine: Bayleaves, black peppercorns, 3 tbsps. of brown sugar, enough water to cover the pork chops, celery, onions
- In a pot, boil water with all the aromatics required in the brine. Let it cool and set the Pork Chops in.
- Leave the brine in the fridge overnight or longer.
- Pull out the Pork Chops, drain slowly on a strainer and/or dab with a paper towel until dry.
- Preheat your oven to 325’C-350’C. Heat a sauté pan, and pan-fry the Pork Chops. Brown each side, remove from the pan, and shove them in the oven for a couple of minutes depending on the desired doneness of the meat.
- Remove or discard some of the oil from the pan, and leave enough to sauté the onions. Deglaze the pan with whiskey, add the orange peel, and some chicken stock, and pour the orange juice or squeeze the juice from Sweet Oranges.
- Stir and add some brown sugar and squeeze some lemons. Let it simmer for a few minutes and strain. Season to taste.
- Pull the chops out of the oven and let it rest. Peel off the inner skin from another Sweet Orange and add them to the sauce. Garnish with Italian Parsley.