Cover Candied kalamansi cake

Yasmin Newman's latest cookbook highlights regional dishes from across the Philippines. We extract three recipes, including fried chicken with catsup glaze, lechon with shiitake and black rice stuffing, and candied kalamansi cake

“I love our cuisine’s bright intensity—big, bold flavours in riotous combinations, and its individuality from other cuisines,” says cookbook author Yasmin Newman. “I love our gregarious use of garlic, the intriguing produce from the land and our desserts, from kakanin to cakes blending European techniques with native flavours.”

It’s an evocative description of Filipino cuisine, and of the flavours and character of the food that Newman seeks to capture in her latest cookbook, Under Coconut Skies: Stories and Feasts from the Philippines.

Born and raised in Australia, Newman, who is Australian-Filipino, returns frequently to the Philippines in normal times, and was lucky enough to have spent two months there just before the global pandemic hit, researching and writing her book from the remote tropical paradise that is Siargao Island.

Related: Filipino Food Evangelists: Meet the People Promoting This Cuisine Across the Globe

Through her work—Newman’s first book 7000 Islands: A Food Portrait of the Philippines also sought to highlight the diversity and distinctiveness of the cuisine—she hopes to raise the profile of Filipino food, and bring its delights to a wider audience, particularly in Australia where she is based.

“It’s my long held wish to see Filipino food as a common part of the Australian food vernacular. It’s not so much a case of a certain perception around it as little opinion at all! Many Australians have never tried Filipino food. Thankfully, that’s changing with more ambassadors like myself championing our cuisine, and with wonderful new restaurants and food events for people to try it for themselves. In the last two years, I’ve noticed an exciting shift and uplift with more and more articles in leading food publications off the back of new restaurant openings and an enthusiasm to try this tantalising cuisine.”

Here, Newman shares three recipes from Under Coconut Skies so you can start to taste your own way through the Philippines and its dishes.

Related: Where To Eat Filipino Food In Melbourne, Australia: 7 Eateries To Try

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Fried Chicken with Catsup Glaze (Pritong Manok)

For us, fried chicken is the taste of happiness. It’s memories of afternoon merienda (snacks) with friends and family dinners. It came into our consciousness in the early 20th century with the American occupation, when two fried chicken houses also emerged. Today, they characterise the two camps: crunchy Jollibee Chickenjoy or light Max’s Restaurant-style. I chow into both, but when it comes to pulutan (beer food), a favourite food group in the Philippines, I can’t go past the crust and shattering crackle of the former. As soon as it comes out of the oil, I plunge it in sweet and sticky banana catsup (ketchup) to glaze instead of serving it on the side, and douse it in kalamansi juice and fiery sili (chilli).

Serves 4–6

Ingredients

1 red onion, finely grated

6 garlic cloves, finely grated

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) boneless chicken thighs, halved, or mixed drumsticks, wings and thighs

75 g (½ cup) plain (all-purpose) flour

85 g (⅔ cup) cornflour (cornstarch)

vegetable oil, for shallow-frying

5 kalamansi, halved, or 1 lime, cut into wedges, to serve

1 long red chilli, thinly sliced, to serve (seeds optional)

 

Chilli Catsup Glaze

160 ml (⅔ cup) banana catsup (ketchup)

150 g (5½ oz) caster (superfine) sugar

80 ml (⅓ cup) fish sauce

2 long green chillies, thinly sliced

 

Method

Combine the onion, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat well. Cover and set aside for 1 hour.

To make the chilli catsup glaze, place the ingredients and 1 tablespoon of water in a large bowl and stir well to combine.

Heat 1 cm (½ in) of vegetable oil in a large deep frying pan over medium heat. Place the flour and cornflour in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Working in three batches, remove the chicken from the bowl, leaving the onion mixture attached, and coat well in the flour mixture, making sure it gets into all the creases and crevices – the more the better as these will form the crispy crunchy bits. Cook the chicken for 2–3 minutes each side, until golden and crispy (or 3–4 minutes each side for drumsticks and 1–2 minutes each side for wings). Drain on paper towel, then repeat with the remaining chicken.

While the chicken is still hot, add to the glaze and toss to coat well. Transfer to a serving platter and squeeze over some of the kalamansi halves or lime wedges. Scatter over the chilli and serve with the remaining kalamansi or lime on the side for squeezing over.

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Lechon with Shiitake and Black Rice Stuffing (Lechon Liempo)

There are few greater pleasures in life than our whole roasted suckling pig known as lechon. Requiring hours of tender love and care—preparing, then turning over coals to ensure the skin is perfectly crisp and the meat is succulent and tender—it’s the centrepiece of our fiestas and savoured from head to toe. When a whole hog is too much, there’s our lechon liempo. Much like Italian porchetta, pork belly is rolled, then roasted with equally crackling-meets-juicy effect, whether over traditional flames or in the oven. In the home of the flamboyant Dedet de la Fuente, aka Lechon Diva, I was treated to her world-famous lechon stuffed with truffle rice—hands-down the best I have ever tried. Inspired by the perfume it lent the meat, along with the side of rice used as a stuffing, this is my version with black rice and shiitake mushrooms, made liempo-style for home.

Serves 6–8

Ingredients

2 kg (4 lb 6 oz) skin-on boneless pork belly

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1.25 litres (42 fl oz) chicken stock or water

200 g (1 cup) black rice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for drizzling

200 g (7 oz) shiitake mushrooms, thickly sliced

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

green salad leaves, to serve (optional)

 

Method

Score the pork belly skin in straight lines at 1.5–2 cm intervals. Scatter the skin with 1 tablespoon of salt, then refrigerate overnight (this helps dry the skin for an extra crisp finish; optional if you’re pressed for time).

Bring the stock to the boil in a saucepan over high heat. Add the black rice and cook for 30 minutes to partially cook. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add the mushroom and garlic and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes, until golden. Remove from the heat, stir in the black rice and set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Pat dry the pork belly skin using paper towel, then place skin-side down on a clean work surface. Butterfly the meat by slicing horizontally through the centre, stopping short of the end, then open to form one large piece.

Season the pork flesh with salt and pepper, then spread the black rice mixture over the skin-side down half of the pork. Fold the flesh over the top, then, with a long edge facing you, roll up the pork away from you into a log (the skin should cover the outside of the roll). Tie at six intervals with kitchen string to secure firmly.

Place a wire rack over a roasting tin and place the rolled pork belly on the rack, seam-side down. Rub with oil and season all over with salt. Roast for 1 hour 15 minutes. Increase the heat to 250°C and roast for a further 30 minutes or until the skin is crackling and the meat is cooked through. Remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil and rest for 20 minutes before carving.

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Candied Kalamansi Cake

When asked what defines Filipino food, I always include kalamansi. Despite its diminutive size, our magical native citrus radiates with a floral fragrance and a sour, slightly sweet juice—somewhere between lemon, lime and mandarin. It grows everywhere and abundantly, which explains its presence in almost all our dishes and our love for tart, mouth-tingling flavours. By contrast, it’s less commonly used in traditional sweet dishes. I’m not sure why, but this enigmatic cake with a buttery coconut base drenched in kalamansi syrup is my sweet homage to our sour jewels. Strictly speaking, the kalamansi isn’t candied, which toughens its delicate skin and turns the glowing green brown. Instead, paper-thin slices are plunged into syrup, then poured over just before serving so it’s beautifully thick and glossy. Buying fresh fruit is still difficult, but this cake is worth tracking down someone with a tree; if they’re Filipino, they will always share their bounty with you.

Serves 8

Ingredients

225 g (1 ½ cups) plain flour

135 g (1 ½ cups) desiccated coconut

330 g  (1 ½ cups) caster sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

250 g unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly, plus extra for greasing

185 ml coconut milk

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon kalamansi zest

 

Candied Kalamansi Syrup

230 g (1 cup) caster sugar

2 tablespoons kalamansi juice

135 g (1 cup) very thinly sliced kalamansi, seeds removed

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease a 20 cm (8 in) round cake tin and line the base with baking paper.

Whisk the flour, coconut, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Whisk the melted butter, coconut milk, egg and kalamansi zest in a separate bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.

Transfer the batter to the lined tin and bake for 45–50 minutes, until golden and a skewer comes out clean (if the top browns too quickly, cover the cake with foil). Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate.

Meanwhile, to make the kalamansi syrup, place the sugar and 125 ml of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 12–15 minutes, until very thick and syrupy (if it starts to colour, you’ve gone too far). Remove from the heat and stir in the kalamansi juice. Cool slightly, then add the kalamansi slices and gently stir, just once, to coat.

Spoon the syrup and kalamansi slices over the warm cake and serve immediately.


Recipes extracted from Under Coconut Skies by Yasmin Newman, published by Smith Street Books, RRP AU$55.00.

Related: A Taste of Home: Filipina Cookbook Author Yasmin Newman Shares Her Favourite Food Spots in the Philippines