I have never been to Bacolod. I almost visited the city earlier this year but the trip was postponed at the last minute. I realize that I am missing a serious culinary experience… Everyone I spoke to about Bacolod waxed poetic about the food; but the one big caveat was that the best food was in private homes, not on the streets or in restaurants. The bottom line, I would need a seriously well-connected guide to get me into the back doors of all the old estates in order to eat like royalty (not to mention photograph and write about it). While there are a few people I know from Bacolod, none were in the mood to get fatter alongside me in a multi-day eating and market tour. And I suppose families guard their special recipes like precious heirlooms. There are some faithful Bacolod-based or bred readers of the blog who have graciously offered suggestions of places to see, eat, etc. and I am still hopeful that one day soon I will make the trip. The one specialty that I have had several times in several different places, but never in Bacolod, is their famous Chicken Inasal or Grilled Chicken. Whatâ€™s the big deal, anyway???
I did a quick search on the internet and ended up at this article by Heny Sison on â€œMang Melchorâ€™s Chicken Inasal.â€ I decided to make the recipe she describes as my â€œcontrolâ€ and also simultaneously concocted my own recipe based on the versions I had consumed so far. Mang Melchorâ€™s version goes something like thisâ€¦ take chicken parts and place it in a big bowl. Add finely chopped ginger, garlic, brown sugar, cane or coconut vinegar, kalamansi (calamondin), rock salt. Marinate the chicken for about an hour (not much longer as the vinegar will have almost completely â€œcookedâ€ the meat.) Then fire up a charcoal grill and barbecue the chicken over medium-low flames while basting with achuete (annatto seed) oil. To make the achuete oil, heat up several tablespoons of vegetable oil, drop in 2 tablespoons of achuete and turn the fire off after a minute or so. Let the oil absorb the intensely orange red color of the achuete and strain away the solids. Cook until chicken is just done and remove from the heat. Best if eaten within 15 minutes of coming off the grill with a good native vinegar and some crushed chillis. A tip, don’t scrimp on the ingredients, overdoing it is difficult to do. The key is to infuse flavor into the chicken. Good vinegar is imperative. I used native coconut vinegar.
For my version, I incorporated Star Margarine. Yipes, is right. I never ever used Star Margarine when I was growing up. I only used butter. My parents were big anti-margarine crusaders. But those in the Bacolod “Inasal nga Manok know,” whispered that Star Margarine is one of those secret ingredients that I just had to try so I took their advice with superb resultsâ€¦ So here goes with Marketmanâ€™s versionâ€¦ Place your chicken parts in a bowl. Add lots of finely minced ginger, garlic, good native vinegar, calamansi, lots of chopped lemongrass, I used over 8 stalks! (the other secret ingredient), rock salt and lots of cracked black pepper (another key ingredient). Marinate for an hour, stirring to coat chicken pieces evenly. Meanwhile, make the basting sauce with an entire medium tub or more of star margarine that you melt in a small saucepan over a low flame. Add a tablespoon or so of achuete oil if you are one of those who must have the color and even more cracked black pepper. Barbecue over medium to low flames (the photo up top is just for graphic effect, that was a flare-up that had to be put out!) until cooked, basting several times with the star margarine, achuete oil and black pepper mixture. I tried a version where I pre-baked the chicken to ensure that it was cooked inside but that version resulted in a dryish chicken, donâ€™t do it. If you live abroad, I have tried this with a good organic cider vinegar that yielded good results.
How did it turn out? SPECTACULAR. I kid you not. Both versions were super sarap but I am partial to the heavy margarine basted, lemongrass scented and high pepper content of the Marketman version. This was special grilled chicken. Excellent with vinegar. I easily ate several pieces in addition to healthy servings of paella. Try it the next time you have a hot grill going! The last two pictures are the margarine versions. The second and third photos are the achuete oil version. Cooked they were nearly indistinguishable visually, but flavor wise, the margarine one did it for me… Many grillers have a tendeny to overcook chicken so watch these closely – you want them juicy inside but possessing a nicely flavored skin and crust. Absolutely YUMMY! Great party food.