17 January 2008

Bulalo

That's bu-la-LO. Don't worry, the first time I read it, I mispronounced it, too.

I really enjoy the notion that food is true living history, even though 99% of the time it's, you know, dead. The term "comfort food" doesn't quite capture what happens when a dish not only works on your senses and sentiments, but connects you to a culture. Especially when said culture is "your" culture. Nostalgia from childhood is one thing. Realizing that thousands of people for centuries have eaten what you're eating is oddly transcendent.

I'm a first generation Filipino-American. I don't speak Tagalog. I despise pinoy movies. Some of the food even scares me. At least, it used to. My mom didn't make too many Filipino dishes while I was growing up, but one staple she always fell back on is bulalo. I did reference a recipe when I made it recently, but I mainly went along with my mom's beautifully simple directions. Beef shank. Bones. Water. Cook it.

It's about two parts water to one part beef material, then reduce it down and taste as you go. Whole peppercorns and sliced onions add a nice layer of flavor, but really all you're making is beef broth that's savory and rich from the bone marrow and melted fat. While it's probably a good idea to skim some of the fat, that's precisely what makes bulalo into lip-smackingly good stuff. Toss in some cabbage and potatoes to go along with the tender, stewed beef, and then ladle the stuff over rice, and you've got a cheap meal fit for fine, upstanding immigrants. Suddenly, I was ten again.
I specifically remember my dad spooning and eventually sucking the marrow out of the bone. This always freaked me out to no end, but now I know better. The bone marrow is by far the best part of the dish. It's where the flavor in the broth comes from. Camille and I tried foie gras recently, the fattened goose liver that's always prevalent in the menus on Top Chef. It's creamy and rich, well deserving of it's reputation.

Stewed beef marrow is kinda like that. Concentrated, decadent, fatty beef flavor. Not quite as creamy, but just as guilt-inducingly good. I don't know what kind of fat and cholesterol takes to my veins after eating this dish. I don't want to know. All I wanted to think about after scraping the last vestiges of marrow from the bone was more efficient ways to get it out from inside the hollow. If you handed me a stewed bone and a wide straw, I'd totally go for it.

1 comment:

Ali Chen said...

My mom makes this. But calls it something else. Yummy!