Okay, I feel like I was lost in the leche flan twilight zone for 44 years. All my life, I assumed that Leche Flan, or probably more appropriately, Flan de Leche was most traditionally or logically made with fresh milk or cream. And in the Philippines, that probably meant carabao’s milk, a high fat and more readily available alternative to fresh cow’s milk. But barring access to carabao’s milk, some form of real cow’s milk was, I assumed, the best choice. So recently, while reading a cookbook that was supposed to encourage the highest of standards for well-known Filipino dishes, I was dumbfounded that the recipe they included made a leche flan using canned condensed milk AND canned evaporated milk. Honestly, I was flummoxed. If you wanted to trace the roots of a flan to its delicious essence, certainly one would likely settle on the best organic eggs, sugar and milk/cream. But here staring me back in the face was a simplified recipe that, most importantly, required a can opener to complete successfully.
I am not saying that the shortcut recipe using canned condensed and evaporated milk is wrong, or not appropriate… just probably not “best practice” if one had a choice. But then I checked the internet and realized the first six hits on google were the shortcut condensed and evaporated milk version of the recipe. And out of say 20+ Filipino cookbooks that I checked, roughly 50% used the fresh milk version while the rest used the condensed milk version. Yikes! Why is this bothering me? Because I instinctively think that making sinigang with fresh unripe sampaloc/tamarind is indeed MUCH BETTER than using a dehydrated tamarind mix with chemicals, MSG, etc. I think it is personally more satisfying to know that the broth is flavored naturally, as it was originally made… The purity of the “made from scratch” approach is a reward on its own, not to mention the aesthetics, taste, economy, environmental impact, seasonality, etc. Do you get what I am blathering on about?
Mila, a reader of this blog, recently attended a forum or symposium at a top Manila hotel/restaurant management or cooking school, with a speech by Amy Besa of Cendrillion Restaurant fame. Apparently, the many students/aspiring chefs in the audience were asked if they had ever made their sinigang from scratch by using boiled unripe tamarind/sampaloc and NOT A SINGLE student had made it from scratch. They all used the tamarind mix in a foil packet! Egads. Yes, I will be a bit of a food snob on this. If you are going to MAJOR in some form or other on the topic of food, wouldn’t you want to learn how to make such an iconic dish as sinigang na sampaloc using real sampaloc??? Arrrgh. There is nothing wrong with a shortcut if it works for you, but I think, at the least, we need to define “best practice” for a particular dish using the finest and freshest ingredients wherever possible.