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#43 My father's sarciado
My father and I share the same birthday (no, it's not today). This issue of the newsletter is for him, for you and for me. Bonus: recipe for sarciado.
I don’t visit Facebook more than I have to. I still check in once every few days because there are groups I belong to (blogging related) and I have to stay updated. I scroll past the usual braggadocio, the annoying memes and the Facebook suggested posts. But I somehow still manage to click the x on shady ads and report each as scam.
This afternoon though, there was something that piqued my interest.
I clicked the link and started reading the article. Before I was halfway through it, I was already thinking that it’s something that I should share with my husband. But by the time I got to the last item in the list, I was thinking of something else entirely.
I did not have a perfect father. Far from perfect, in fact. But that 21st item in the article, he managed to have with me.
Oh, my goodness, the food trips we shared. Just him and me by the time I was in college. Taking long drives, stopping at roadside stalls in Batangas to buy freshly harvested ube (purple yam) with soil still clinging to the skin, buying newly baked buko (coconut) pie in Los Baños, eating roast duck at some posh restaurant in Makati, enjoying stuffed boneless chicken wings in Chinatown…
If I go back even earlier, there were those nights of waiting for bread dough to rise… When I was around five or six years old, there was a period when I refused to eat store bought siopao (Chinese steamed pork buns) and insisted that he make them for me. But don’t be alarmed because it was a short period (watching dough rise was an amazing sight for five-year-old me) and I did not torment him longer than a few weeks.
And then, there was the time he brought home woven leaves and we — him, my younger brother and me — stuffed them with rice. We watched him lower the parcels into boiling water and, later, unwrap them to reveal the cooked rice.
My father and my brother had their food moments too. My favorite is the one with the goat. Father gave son a goat to care for. My brother must have been about seven years old. We lived in the city but there was a huge empy lot in the family compound where grass grew wild. My brother was instructed to bring the goat there everyday to feed.
I don’t remember how long the goat was with us. One day, my father noticed that the goat looked too skinny. When my brother was asked about it, he replied that the goat refused to go to the grassy area and if he pulled the leash to make it walk, the goat wouldn’t budge and the leash around its neck choked it.
In other words, my brother didn’t want his pet goat to choke to death (literally) so he stopped trying to force it to go to the grass to feed. And that’s why it was so skinny. The goat was slaughtered, my father cooked it into kaldereta (a stew) but my brother refused to eat it.
My daughters don’t really remember him. My father died just a few months after Alex, my younger daughter, was born.
But my husband, Speedy, remembers him. And his cooking. And, most especially, the sarciado that my father served for lunch when we visited soon after our older girl, Sam, was born.
It’s thirty years later and Speedy still talks about that sarciado every chance he gets. And I have tried to replicate it on many occasions. But I have always failed at sourcing the correct cut of beef. My father used beef batok (neck) to cook sarciado. It’s a tough cut of beef, highly marbled with fat, and just perfect for stewing.
Fortunately for him, he was always able to get meat from a young animal. Unfortunately for me, the beef batok I always managed to get came from older animals. And the rare times that I scored batok from a young animal, there wasn’t enough fat to turn the meat into really good sarciado.
Until about a week ago.
Speedy and I were in the grocery to buy meat. There were already packs of lamb foreshank, sukiyaki-cut beef and bacon cut-pork belly in the cart. All I need was a few kilos of chicken. But there was this 1.5 kilogram slab of beef batok. Definitely a lot of meat and definitely pricey, but I put it in the cart anyway.
Back at home, I divided the beef batok into two portions, kept one portion in the freezer and cooked the other portion into beef sarciado. There were only three of us to eat sarciado for dinner (Sam works in faraway Manila) and, generally, half a kilo of meat is enough for four. But, whether incredibly or expectedly, we finished 750 grams of beef that night.
Granted, there was shrinkage. Most of the fat melted into the meat and sauce. But still. We finished all the meat. Here’s the recipe.
My version of my father’s sarciado (a slow cooker recipe)
I wish the photo were better. This one doesn’t really do justice to the gloriously succulent beef. But I’m still practicing my food plating, so… We had the sarciado with dinner rolls baked by Alex. My father always served his sarciado with rice.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 6 hours 15 minutes
Serves 3 to 4
750 grams (about 1.6 pounds) beef batok (neck)
2 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 and 1/2 cups bone broth (beef or chicken)
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups pureed (or finely chopped) tomatoes
6 cloves garlic (pounded and peeled)
2 bay leaves
leaves from 2 sprigs of oregano (or 2 pinches if using dried)
1 tablespoon smoky paprika
diced potatoes, diced carrot and sweet peas (as much or as little as you like, or skip altogether)
Cut the beef across the grain into two inch pieces (cubes or thick slices — your choice).
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan.
Brown the beef on all sides (in batches if necessary) then transfer to the slow cooker with all the pan juices.
Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, oregano, tomato and broth.
Sprinkle in the salt, pepper and paprika.
Set the cooker on HIGH and cook for an hour then switch to LOW and cook for another four hours (the actual time will vary depending on the thickness of the meat and age of the animal).
Taste the sauce, and add more salt or pepper, or both, as needed.
Drop in the diced potatoes and carrots, and stir.
Close the cooker, cook on HIGH for 15 minutes, then on LOW for another 45 minutes.
Taste the sauce once more (the vegetables would have soaked up most of the saltiness) and adjust the seasonings again, if needed.
Stir in the peas.
Cook on HIGH for another 15 minutes.
Serve with bread or rice and, optionally, some fresh greens on the side.