Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pancit Puti (Thin Rice Noodles Cooked in Savory Broth)

If you are working or have worked in the Makati City (Philippines) area, there is a good chance that you have eaten the unique “pancit puti” popularized by one of the restaurants there specializing in fried (“guisado”) noodles and offering phone deliveries to offices, residences and business establishments. Their distinct “pancit puti” proved delicious and eventually became a hit to residents and employees in and around the city’s commercial district and nearby villages.

During my short stint in our company’s Philippine Branch office in Legaspi Village, Makati, I had, on many occasions, eaten the said “pancit puti” dish along with other “pancit” offerings such as “bihon”, “palabok” and “malabon”, particularly during birthday treats of co-employees. Even on the day my turn came to treat everyone, I also settled for “pancit puti” along with some other Filipino snack delicacies.

Of course, it is a common knowledge that the popular Filipino fried noodles called “pancit” (also spelled “pansit”), be it made with the generic “bihon” (thin rice noodles) or the other kinds such as “miki” (fresh egg noodles), “canton” (dried egg noodles) and “sotanghon” (mung beans noodles or glass noodles) or any combination thereof (either “miki-bihon” or “sotanghon-miki”), is cooked or sautéed with the salty, earthy and brownish flavouring condiment called soy sauce or soya sauce. This is one of the reasons why almost all “pancit” are light brown to yellow-orange in colour even when a naturally white coloured noodles such as “bihon” and the clear or transparent (when cooked) “sotanghon” is used.

Like in “adobong puti”, the difference lies on the non-usage of the deeply coloured and umami-rich soy sauce in the dish resulting to a rather pale or somewhat whitish (“puti” in Filipino language) noodle dish. Hence the name “pancit puti” is adopted which literally means white noodles in the English language.

Actually, this alternative noodle dish is a welcome addition to the long line of Filipino “pancit” recipes. For a nation so fun with noodles, “pancit puti” will continuously find its niche. It may not become as popular as the usual “pancit” but it will go on satisfying many people, especially those adventurous and looking for new dimension in taste and unique preparations.

Like the ordinary “pancit bihon”, “pancit puti” also uses the noodles called “bihon” (sometimes spelled “bijon”), a very thin noodles made from rice. It is cooked in savoury pork and/or chicken broth and flavoured with fish sauce or “patis” (soy sauce replacement) and “calamansi” extract (or lemon) then topped with flaked chicken or steamed pork bits, chopped green onions and fried garlic chips. Other delightful toppings include crumbled pork cracklings or “chiharon”, cooked and peeled shrimps and slices of hard-boiled eggs.

For this preparation, we shall need a pack of “bihon” noodles, about 500 grams (1.1 lbs.). I would advice that you use a good quality “bihon”, something that you have repeatedly tested and sure that will work well with you. In the Philippine markets and groceries, there are lots of choices. Here in Sri Lanka, we have limited options. :-(

In a large container, soak the noodles in water for about ten minutes or until it is slightly soft for easy cooking. Drain and set aside.

For me, the most important aspect of the “pancit puti” preparation is the use of a really tasty and savoury broth. Since there is no soy sauce which would otherwise provide the delectable “umami” taste, it is necessary that a well prepared and good tasting broth is made available. To attain this, I am banking on some pork bones with marrow, about 400 grams and a whole chicken breast, about 500 grams to be slowly boiled together to bring out its deep flavor.

To complement the bones and meat ingredients, some spices and vegetables are needed such as 1 small carrot, cut up, 1 medium onion, quartered, 1 small stalk of celery, roughly chopped, ½ tsp black pepper and 1 tsp salt. Use of MSG is entirely up to you. :)

In a casserole, place the pork bones and chicken. Add about 8 cups of water and the rest of the ingredients and let it boil over medium-high heat. Adjust the heat to low and continue the slow simmering until a very tasty broth is achieved and the chicken breast is tender.

Take out the chicken from the casserole but continue with the slow simmering of the broth. Add some more hot water if necessary, to ensure that about 6 cups of rich broth remains at the time of usage. Flake the cooked chicken meat into small bits. Set aside.

In the meantime, prepare the other ingredients compose of ½ head garlic, finely minced, 3 tbsp vegetable oil, another ½ head garlic, minced, 1 large onion, thinly chopped, ¼ cup "patis" or fish sauce, ½ tsp salt or to taste, ½ tsp ground white pepper, 2 tbsp sesame oil, ½ cup finely chopped spring onion and 3 “calamansi” (or 1 lemon).

In a large wok or thick pan, heat the oil and fry the ½ cup finely minced garlic until crisp and golden. Carefully take out the garlic chips from the oil and set aside.

In the same pan with oil, fry the remaining garlic, followed by the onion. When the onion is translucent, add in fish sauce and let the pungent smell sizzles away. Add in flaked chicken meat and continue sautéing. After about 3 minutes, add in carrots and continue cooking.

Take about 6 cups of the still simmering broth and pour to the pan. Discard the bones and other spices. Let the broth boil and simmer for about 2 minutes. Taste the broth and season it with white pepper and salt as necessary. It should be a little salty to accommodate the tasteless noodles later.

Add the fully drained “bihon” and continue cooking with occasional stirring. By the time the broth is gone, the noodles should be nicely cooked through. Finally, stir in sesame oil. Turn the heat off, it’s done. :-)

Transfer in a wide serving platter. Top with crispy garlic bits, several drops of “calamansi” extract and a handful of spring onions. Serve with some more slices of “calamansi” (or lemon) and extra garlic chips on the side. Yum yum!

We ate this “pancit puti” with some buttered toast as a late afternoon snack and it effectively ended up as our dinner. We were so full that no one was able to eat our actual dinner anymore. Try it. You’ll love it. Enjoy! c“,)



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