Palayok Pinakbet a la Marketman

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Take a really close look at the photo above. Notice the almost otherworldly sheen on the vegetables that retain their individual shape and distinct characteristics. Notice that despite obviously being cooked and actually steamed at high heat, they look whole and undisturbed. Imagine the fragrant mix of fish bagoong and bagnet or lechon kawali together with the vegetables, a heady aroma of really good things. Adjust your eyes to the all natural colors, darker, deeper, and earthy. This is the pinakbet I cooked in a palayok. As authentic as I will ever make it. And believe me, it was superb. But superb. And better yet, incredibly easy to make.

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Cooking this dish in a palayok over a wood fire is ESSENTIAL to crossing the line into pinakbet nirvana. The dish seems to be purer, more intense, and so incredibly fragrant. I am almost certain I could identify this dish out of line up which included pinakbet cooked in a kawali over a gas flame, or one in a Le Creuset set over a non-wood or charcoal fire. This is simple food. But wonderful simple food. There are so many incarnations of this favorite Pinoy vegetable dish, some perhaps better, but many more worse, in my opinion. But only now that I have cooked this in a palayok, do I get why it is such a big deal. The key? Superb ingredients at the peak of their existence. And minimal human intervention. How easy is that? And while a ratatouille (to which a pinakbet is sometimes compared, probably by writers who don’t cook too often themselves) is bright and vibrant and uniquely mediterranean in feel with lots of olive oil, the pinakbet is humble and steamed and underpinned by the unique taste of salted and fermented fish, with a high note of pork fat thrown in…

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To do this right, start with superb ingredients purchased fresh at the market that morning or picked in your backyard if you should be so lucky… I had a basket full of the ingredients one might find in Ilocos… I also had Ilocano bagoong made from fish (it looks a bit like muddy water) and some chopped up bagnet. I chopped up the native tomatoes, peeled and sliced some ginger, peeled several cloves of garlic, washed and prepared the vegetables, the mini-ampalayas left intact with only the ends cut off. Heat up a seasoned palayok over a wood fire and when it was hot, I dropped a hand full of bagnet into the palayok, the chopped tomatoes, onions, ginger and garlic… Do not stir with a spoon or any other implement. Next, I gently dropped in the whole baby ampalaya…

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Followed in layers with ayap or sitaw, eggplants, okra, a few whole siling mahaba and lots of squash flowers, and the pot was nearly overflowing…

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Add about 1/3 of a cup of fish bagoong, or adjust to your taste, I added about 3 tablespoons of water as I was worried there wasn’t enough liquid for this to steam properly, and finally, another handful of chopped bagnet and cover with the lid. I was hoping the vegetables would shrink down and since I have NEVER seen anyone cook this, I was taking guesses and hoping my intuitions were correct.

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After a few minutes, mesmerizing eau de pinakbet started to escape from the pot (I knew this early it would be a winner, you could SMELL it was right)… I couldn’t resist and took a quick peek and photo so you could see what the half cooked dish looked like… notice it had already wilted down several inches!

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Next, I grabbed some potholders, firmly grabbed the palayok and cover and did what I imagined Ilocano cooks would do to toss the insides gently yet mix them up a bit. This part was stressful but turned out to be super easy. Just two tosses or jerks yielded a beautifully mixed pinakbet, with hardly any bruising or mushiness to the vegetables at all… Total cooking time must have been between 15-20 minutes.

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And when transferred to a serving dish a few minutes later, it still looked absolutely brilliant. You could taste each individual vegetable (ampalaya were wicked bitter). They were firm but cooked. There wasn’t much oily residue. It wasn’t soupy at all. It had that certain something from the smoky wood fire and the flavor seemed concentrated, almost as though the clay pot drew moisture out of the equation, thereby reducing the juices down to their finest. In future, for a pinoy themed dinner, I would definitely bring this to the table IN the palayok… it smelled so much better that way…would make for great dinner time conversation. Palayok Pinakbet a la Marketman. This was an excellent way to start off the palayok series…

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47 Responses

  1. This authentic ilocano pinakbet really looks very yummy! Thanks MM for another well-loved dish.

  2. I can smell it here! :) It’s very healthy and so easy to make. I’m sure my parents would love this dish. Now, the question is where would I find palayok up here, I’d better check the local filipino stores in the area!

  3. Both photo and post are wickedly awesome — made me drool. Granted, Pinakbet had always been my utmost favorite food. Fresh and hand picked vegetables don’t hurt either.
    Don’t stop fanning the flames MM, I’m waiting.

    Hmmm… I wonder what’s next on the palayok series?

  4. Who says you have to travel all the way up North for authentic pinakbet? Travel no more come back to batalan era of cooking vessels the palayok and kalang and gather all your freshest veggies, bagnet and bagoong balayan for drop, shake and serve out of this world real blue-blooded pedigreed pinakbet. Apparently the wonders of modern marvels hurt our culinary expertise like pizza baked in wood burning oven taste much better than pizza baked in convection oven. Though the envrionmentalists and the purists are deadlocked on this issue. There is really something in wood burning cooking that brings out the flavor of food. Rice cooked in palayok lined with banana leaves is the best. Do you have a sandok made out of coconut shell with bamboo pole secured with yantok? The sandok compliments the dish in scooping it up into the serving platter.

  5. congratulations MM, your version of pinakbet really looks so yummy. i hope you left some leftovers for me. =)

  6. Oooohhh, that pinakbet with a side dish of bagnet (or fried fish) and some freshly cooked steamed rice. Heaven! My family is Tagalog, but I think my mom’s version of pinakbet is close. She used chicharon–which, I guess, is pretty close to bagnet.

    Thanks for the info! Now, re the recipe for the mangosteen cake . . . ;)

  7. How do you grow bagnet? hahaha. I can eat a palayok and a half of this pinakbet.
    My late lola was from Aparri and your pictures are like “Aparritions” of the pinakbet my Ilokano kin are lnown for.

  8. MM, try looking for a rattan holder for your palayok. This holder looks like number 8 with extended arms and you wrap it around the palayok’s neck. I remember my Lola using this when ever she tosses her palayok(no stirring when cooking with palayok). Its too dangerous to just hold it with you hands. Your Pinakbet really looks delicious! Yum Yum!

  9. A great addition to the veggies would be peeled malunggay pods and himbaba-o (the green wormy looking veggie that i think you featured once). Nevertheless, your pakbet would look good on my plate next to a mound of steaming rice!

  10. i was about to wonder aloud about what the ilocana lolas could have used as potholders, and then i saw paul’s comment above. i’ve never seen a palayok holder like the one he described, or maybe I’d seen it somewhere but had no idea what it was for. hmmm….single-use implement, MM!

    MM, that eighth picture with the half-done pinakbet is soooo inviting. i can almost smell the pinakbet from here, and makes me want to cook up some for lunch. is that more bagnet on top of the squash flowers?

  11. I normally don’t like pinakbet, as the pinakbet I know is composed of mushy, totally unappealing-looking veggies..

    But looking at your authentic pinakbet, I guess this is something I’d like to try, and probably love..

  12. Hi Marketman! My husband, who is 100% Ilocano, cooks it a bit differently. He first fries up the bagnet, then sautes the chopped onions, tomatoes and garlic in the oil from the bagnet before putting the bagoong isda. And yes, he tosses the vegetables by lifting the casserole and shaking it. He has never cooked it in a palayok though and I will convince him to do so next time we take a vacation in Laoag.

    I must say though that your pinakbet looks as yummy as you say it is.

  13. Finally, someone knows what a pinakbet is. The restaurant staple that they claim is ‘pinakbet’ is actually bulanglang, sauteed vegetables with bagoong, while the one marketman made is the real deal. This is my mom’s specialty, being ilocana, she also makes the authentic kind…My lola used to cook it in palayok too!

  14. Way To Go Marketman,

    Are you sure you don’t have an Ilocano in your bloodline? This dish is a winner. Funny how everyone is buying all the ingredient for this dish either at the palengke or supermarket. I had the blessing of picking it fresh from the garden around my lola’s house at a ripe old age of 8. Originally I hated growing around the farm. But now, You have no idea how much I missed it. Like the song says “If I Could Turn Back Time”. Anyways Thank you for blowing up my favorite and I still say it should be our National Dish.

  15. Salivary glands in overdrive, and not just due to the lunch hour! My favorite ilocano dish of all time. Thanks for taking us through the process MM!

  16. MM, this post is simply inspired! Thank you very much for sharing. I had no idea that the authentic pinakbet is cooked this way. Can’t wait to try this.

    I look forward to more palayok posts from you! Maraming salamat!

  17. Sarap naman, nagutom ako, grabe! I knew I wasn’t gonna be disappointed when I looked forward to Palayok Week ’08. Mmmmmm mmmm mmmmm. What’s next on the menu, MM? I will be dreaming of this as it’s bedtime here in the West Coast. (sigh)

  18. genuine pinakbet is very good! I didn’t know that one of the secrets is cooking it over wood fire. Thanks for the info.

  19. MM, fresh vegetables, authentic cookware really makes a difference. This looks amazing! My pinakbet that I made this weekend didn’t fair so well.

  20. that’s how my dad loves his pinakbet..with squash flowers..i never tried simmering pinakbet in palayok..they seem to be lacking in brilliance and color but im sure they are much healthier..nutrients are all trapped in it..great post!!

  21. MM, my mom is Ilocano, from Cagayan Valley and so I grew up eating this (as well as dinengdeng, inabraw, etc). Love it!

    Mom is coming over soon and I have a running list of things for her to bring me. Was thinking of adding a palayok to the list. Do you (or any of your readers) know if you can use a palayok with a gas burner? Would the gas ruin the palayok?

  22. Jacob’s mom,
    I’ve been using palayok with a gas burner, you would need a “tuntungan” to stabilize the palayok in the burner, i use the one that came with the chinese wok kit. And don’t worry the gar burner would not ruin your palayok. I just don’t think you would get the real smoky flavor rom the woodfired one.

    Surfers, dont look to much at the pictures, baka ma impatso kayo ;-) sumasakit na tyan ko sa kakatinginnnnn!!!

  23. Ted: At the Thai Market Store they sell wood/charcoal burning stove made out of concrete housed/formed in a sheet metal like tin can material. They are about $15 if you want to fire up your palayok with wood/charcoal. You do not need the Wok ring as the palayok will sit well in that stove.

  24. MM, you must’ve been an Ilocano in a previous life. Hahaha.. Since it is Palayok Week, may I suggest you look for some fish to cook in your palayok, preferably paksiw. What may late father-in-law usually cooks in a palayok is paksiw na talimusak (preferably live). First, he puts some banana leaves at the bottom of the palayok then layers the fish, ginger, onions, adds some salt, pepper then sukang iloko. You cover the palayok and after around 10-15 minutes, the fish is cooked. Hope you can find some fish to cook in your palayok.

  25. Another outstanding post and excellent choice for a theme.
    Great advice about preventing the mushy, soupy and oily issues of Pinakbet. I’m going Palayok shopping! Thanks MM.

  26. When in Vigan, do try the bagnet pakbet at the restaurant of the Vigan Plaza Hotel. Super sarap! Thanks for the recipe! I will surely try to make this this weekend.

  27. I remember my Mom cooking it this way back when I was growing up in Laoag. This is the real thing, not soupy or oily – it should be shriveled that’s why we call it pakbet short for “pinakebbet”, an ilocano word for dried-up & wrinkly.
    Another suggestion would be to add some patani. As one poster mentioned you should get the holder … i think it is called silang if I remember it correctly.

  28. Just saw this post now. Don’t know what your pinakbet progress has been since this one, Marketman, but you might want to consider adding patani seeds next time. Adds color and texture.

  29. I am pure Tagalog and it sure is good to know pinakbet is right there with the favorites…My version is just fried pork with onions, ampalaya , talong and sitaw with bagoong isda and opps!!! kamatis ( almost forgot ) By the way, marketman…would you be kind enough to tell me whether I should boiled the eggs before putting them on a container with water and salt to make itlog maalat or should I boiled them after 6 weeks when I harvest them? I cannot buy them here in my place. Please help.

  30. My Lola is a pure Ilocana and everytime I visits her in Tarlca, she would cook pinakbet, dinengdeng, inihaw na hito at piniritong tokak (palaka).She was such a good cook and I tried duplicating her cooking but I always fail and so, I would go to Tarlac whenever I crave for native Ilocano dishes.

  31. What a beautiful dish! I, unfortunately, do not have a palayok nor a wood-burning stove, but thanks to Ted and Maria Clara, I should be making this again soon… I make a variation by pounding/processing chillies, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, peppercorns, coriander root/leaves, kaffir lime rind and dried shrimp, then mixing that with the bagoong before putting it in the vegetables. I’ve served this quite a few times to vegetarians and non-pork eaters, and they didn’t care that there was pork in the dish.

    Thank you for this blog!

  32. I love pinakbet…but I think I would take the seeds and the pith of the baby ampalaya and add it just cut lengthwise. I like bitter but I think unseeded ampalaya is too much for me. hehe

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