Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Humba (Braised Pork with Black Beans and Palm Sugar)

I have already posted my southern Philippines style “humba” during the early stage of this blog. But since it is a personal favourite and a regular fare in my monthly menu, I decided to feature it once again. Basically using the same recipe as before, however I experimented and omitted the banana blossoms or “bulaklak ng saging” which some of our group mates want to avoid and the “shaoxing” wine (or red wine that I sometimes substitute) which I believe could have not been part of the old-fashioned “humba” our ancestors used to prepare.

“Humba” is a Filipino dish very similar in appearance with the famous “adobo”. Actually the ingredients are also very similar between the two except with the use of sugar or palm sugar or jaggery and banana blossom, a type of aromatic dried lily buds. Like the widely regarded Filipino national dish “adobo”, “humba” is also a traditional way of preserving or extending the shelf life of the meat during the times when refrigerators, and supply of electricity for that matter, are still not very common or readily available, especially in far-flung provinces and many rural areas.

While I have yet to post the “Capampangan” (Pampanga, Philippines) version of “humba” which I really love and long wanted to prepare but continuously being constrained by the unavailability (here in Sri Lanka) of some really important ingredients, let us first settle with this Visayan (Philippines) version which is also remarkably good, exquisite and tasty.

As I have mentioned before, the best cuts of pork for this dish is knuckle/hock or “pata” and belly or “liempo” but since both cuts are quite difficult to find here in our area of resident, I have to, once again, settle for the cube pork which composed of mixtures of several parts cut into cubes. Surely, I will miss the delicate and succulent pork skin or rind which is a prime feature in the two former cuts but I will be benefited by the rather leaner and healthier latter cut.

To cook the dish, we need around 1½ kilograms (about 5 lbs) of cube pork, thoroughly washed and drained. Since this involves braising, it is important to fully drain the meat of excess liquid. I already seasoned the meat with some salt and ground pepper.

Heat a large pan or wok and place all the meat at the centre. Cook the meat with the lid on over low-medium heat until it renders some of its own juice and fat. Give it a gentle mix and continue braising on medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced and it starts to sizzle in its own fat releasing an aromatic flavour while lightly frying.

Meanwhile prepare the other ingredients: 1 whole garlic, peeled and minced, ½ cup “Kithul” jaggery or palm sugar (you can also use the Philippine “panotsa”/“panocha” or even just brown sugar), 1 can or about 4 tbsp salted black beans, drained, 6 tbsp natural vinegar, 6 tbsp soy sauce, 2 pcs star anise, 2 pcs bay leaves and 1 tsp cracked pepper. Additionally, we also need about 1 cup of good broth.

Add in minced garlic on the sizzling meat on the pan followed by the salted black beans and continue sautéing until garlic is aromatic.

Add in vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves, pepper, star anise and broth. Continue simmering on low heat. When the liquid boils, slowly place the “Kithul” jaggery or “panocha” on top and put the lid on. Let it boil then continue simmering on low heat. I usually simmer meat on a very low heat to prevent the liquid from rapidly evaporating which will require extra addition of broth or water.

When the meat is pork tender and the skin is gelatinous, mix gently to evenly coat the meat with the sauce. Let it simmer for another minute. If you don’t like the dish oily, you can remove some of the oil from the sauce at this point.

Pour the sauce in a cup and spoon out the oil from the surface. Take out as much oil as you prefer. I have friends who like an oily pork dish and would intentionally leave some amount of oil in the sauce. Return the sauce back to the meat and continue simmering. Adjust the level and consistency of the sauce by adding ¼ to ½ cup of water, if you like.

Transfer the dish in a plate and serve warm along with lots of steamed rice. Be ready for a really wonderful meal. :-)

The proper balance of salty, sweet and sour tastes is the important factor in this dish. The added earthy flavour and aroma of bay leaves and fragrance and essence of garlic and star anise make the dish truly satisfying.

This is an underrated Filipino dish. Not as popular as the “adobo” or “paksiw na pata” but equally good and delicious. Enjoy! c“,)

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