This is one of those spur of the moment recipes that comes up whenever my mother looks at the pantry and declares that something needs using up.
This is a bak kwa bun – and it actually started out with a batch of schiacciata dough straight out of Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’ but given a few of my personal spins.
We had a big bag of Bee Cheng Hiang chicken bak kwa on the dining room sideboard, one of those edible souvenirs we brought home from a trip to Singapore.
Bak kwa, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is spiced and seasoned minced meat, pressed into sheets, then grilled. It’s usually eaten as a savoury snack. (It goes well with a big gin and tonic, by the way.)
It’s essentially an oriental take on ham or bacon, with the additional virtue of being ready to eat straight from the packet.
This initial foray into baking bak kwa buns involved coarsely chopping ten mini-slabs of chicken bak kwa and kneading them into a herb-spackled batch of schiacciata dough given colour with a tablespoon of tomato paste. (You can’t taste the tomato in the finished product.)
A small slice of mild cheddar went into the middle of each bun as I formed them, and the buns were brushed with beaten egg before baking.
The end result: a soft yet substantial bun dotted with smoky, savoury bits of barbecued chicken with the cheese adding umami goodness.
These are excellent on their own as a snack, but they’re also perfect when paired with a hefty salad or a hearty soup for a quick lunch or supper.
And, yes: these are also delicious when toasted, buttered, and eaten alongside a mug of coffee for a breakfast that would not be out of place at a kopitiam.
“Are you folks going out today?” I yawned to my dad on the morning of Black Saturday. See, we’re the sort of family that stays home during Holy Week: no trips to the beach, active participation during the religious services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, bantering with each other over the points made by the Dominican friars during the annual broadcast of The Seven Last Words live from the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City, and I do my Easter baking on Black Saturday. So, we’re pretty much city-bound (and local community-bound) during Paschaltide.
So it came as a surprise when my father said, “How about duck in Laguna for lunch?”
Duck is a meat that rarely makes an appearance on most Filipino tables unless you live in Pateros in the northern part of Manila or in the town of Victoria in the southern province of Laguna. For both places, ducks and duck eggs are both a source of nourishment and a long-standing source of income. Balut, that infamous duck embryo delicacy foisted on unsuspecting foreign tourists and squeamish Fil-Am kids, has long been Pateros’ claim to fame; in Victoria, there are roadside stalls that sell live or dressed ducks, as well as balut, penoy (hard-boiled duck eggs), as well as both salt-cured and fresh duck eggs. In the case of the latter, it’s all part of the “One Town, One Product” (OTOP) initiative of the Department of Trade and Industry which encourages self-reliance in rural areas by encouraging MSMEs.
At long-time duck farmer Leo Dator’s humorously named Ang Tindahan ng Itlog ni Kuya (aka Mr Duck), duck lovers can indulge in a menu where duck meat and eggs are everywhere. Seriously: you can get a meal that’s ducky in every way from soup to dessert. Other than that, one can also get organically farmed ducks, duck eggs (fresh and preserved), and other niceties such as those au courant salted-egg potato crisps (made with their own eggs, natch), locally-made noodles, and other snacks native to Laguna province.
The speciality of the house, however, is kinulob na itik. Similar to Indonesian bebek goreng (crisply fried duck), the organically raised duck is first poached to take some of the gaminess off, and then deep-fried till crisp on the outside, tender and savoury within. Richer and more flavourful than the fast-food fried chicken so many Filipinos are fond of (and, really: I can’t see why), a single order is good enough for a group of four – with leftovers, to boot.
Another must-try dish is the sinampalukang itikor duck cooked sinigang-style in a sour tamarind broth with finely chopped shallots and plenty of fresh finger chilies. It’s quite a change from the usual sinigang: meatier, more robust, somewhat fiery because of the chilies chucked into the pot. It’s a dish that seriously demands to be eaten with plenty of rice – and the rice here is excellent. It may be plain, but it’s deliciously fragrant and the grains are moreishly chewy; it is certainly the perfect foil for the fatty goodness of the duck.
There’s halo-halo on the menu for afters, but I would recommend you go out with the same thing you came in with and have a ducky end to the meal with the leche flan. The local take on this sweet favourite comes out denser, heavier, and creamier than the pale yellow examples you get in other parts of the country. Here, as duck yolks are used, the custard is a deeper orange hue and the resulting dish has a chewy, gooey texture that is seriously appealing even to the finickiest of diners. (But, if even this puts you off, you’ve no business eating.)
The tindahan is actually split into two parts: the main restaurant which is a roofed structure open on all sides with tables for dining on, a counter for ordering from, and a kitchen where the magic happens. The other part is the store which sells all things ducky (yes, including live Long Island Pekin ducks – fat and rather charming-tempered ones, really. You’d want to keep one as a pet, but you’d also consider cooking the creature come Christmas this year, so…)
I ended up buying a clutch of fresh duck eggs and a whole kinulob to take away. Duck eggs are an amazing addition to one’s baking arsenal, if I do say so myself. They impart a richer flavour to eggy breads like classic Jewish challah, for one thing. I’ve yet to see what duck eggs can do in cakes or biscuits, but I’ve seen recipes for duck egg pavlovas (whites in the pav, yolks in the custard to pour over it) and as we’re at the start of mango season in these parts…
Oh, and remember that I bought a whole duck for take away: we had that bird for Black Saturday dinner and, yes, there were leftovers. Those definitely didn’t go to waste, of course, because…
…I went and chucked the lot into a tasty duck curry for Easter Sunday dinner. 🙂