The smell was very familiar and it brought a smile in my face. Like a eureka moment. Maybe because this reminds me so much of my Mom and suddenly fond memories of her came flooding back.
It’s been a while since I last had “dinuguan”, a Filipino meat stew mixed with beef and pork blood. In the Philippines we use only pork blood but somehow here in the States my Mom has used the combination. Some might say “yiiiikes” but c’mon, many European cultures use animal blood in their cuisines too. Ireland, England, Greece and Spain have their blood sausages and in China, they mix it in their congee. I only mention those countries because I’ve been there and in way or the other have tasted them. I remember requesting our Irish B&B owner to replace my ration of blood sausage with rashers for breakfast. I think you need to be adventurous to try it but once you do you’ll find it does not taste that bad.
Mom knew it was one of my favorite dishes and I would always badger her to cook it for me. I never understood why she’d make them only when my sisters came to visit making me believe that she wasn’t particularly fond of me. She would not openly say that it is bad for my cholesterol level, it could have saved me a lot of heartaches but if I am smart enough I should have known that. Right?
My cousin cooked a soupy version of it to the seminary open house last Saturday. It was great but I didn’t have enough of it. In some parts of the Philippines, the soupy “dinuguan” goes very well with puto or steam rice cakes which looks like muffins. Invariably it is considered more a merienda or a snack.
I guess there is no wrong way of cooking dinuguan. Once while waiting for our late ferry in Quezon province to Marinduque island in the Philippines, our dinuguan came with big chunks of meat like adobo. My nieces’ new favorite is the Vigan version which for me tasted all too bloody without the meat. I think the pork is grounded to a pulp and I couldn’t understand their fondness for it. Preferences depends according to region or not even, as Vigan is only a town away from ours. My version is the way we do it in our town.
Where my father came from, dinuguan is very dry, so dry that you can see the rendered fat from the pork which blends perfectly with hot steamed rice. I could lick the spoon or ladle my Mom would use to stir the stew or even put a couple of cups of rice in the emptied pot just so I could get all that good morsel left – there is no way I would let them go to waste. But one advantage of having a dry stew is, it is preserved longer without refrigeration although in our household it never lasts more than a day or two.
Mom was a wonderful cook and I’ve always depended on her to cook them but now that she’s gone, it is time for me to try making it myself. I had several pounds of pork belly which I chopped finely. After washing, I put them in a big pot, added a couple of bay leaves, salt and black pepper and a couple cups of water. Let it boil until tender and the fat rendered. Then I transferred the cooked meat in a big bowl as I sautéed crushed garlic in the remaining fat and minced onion. As soon as it browned, I returned the meat in the pot, stir until the meat blend well with the garlic and onion. You can add some more water if you want some sauce in it. You can also add green pepper to add some heat.
Meanwhile, I poured the beef and pork blood in another bowl and added a cup of vinegar. I crushed with my fingers any solid/frozen blood, making sure the whole thing is liquefied.
When the meat is rapidly boiling, put the heat in medium and add the blood. Do not stir or the vinegar won’t cook properly. It will have a pronounced acidity. As soon as it boils again and the blood turns deep brown, stir it slowly and let the blood cook some more to blend all the flavors and everything is well coated.
I felt a sense of accomplishment the moment the familiar aroma of the bay leaf, garlic and meat filled the room. Somehow, I felt my Mom’s presence in the kitchen with me.
My aunt and uncle used to always request Mom to cook her dinuguan for their Christmas Eve dinner. I was so proud of my dish that I brought them a bowl and shared some to my little sister too who gave me her thumbs up.