Gambas al Ajillo: Building flavors to complement rather than overpower the traditional

One mention of gambas here in the Philippines would usually bring to mind images of shrimps in a deep red-orange sauce (that’s usually more sweet than spicy) with some bellpeppers and onions thrown in for good measure. In some cases, this even comes in a smoking hot sizzling plate. Personally, I’m not a fan of this style of gambas mainly because the shrimps tend to come out overcooked and all the flavors that are added in the dish just overwhelm the subtle taste of the shrimp.

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What you’ll see when you search for “gambas” in Google.

My preference for gambas is to have it as gambas al ajillo, shrimps in garlic to put it simply. Traditional recipes I have seen make use of just four ingredients outside of your basic salt and pepper seasoning: Shrimps, olive oil, garlic, and chili. The dish, as you would expect, lets the shrimps shine with none of the other flavors getting in the way. My take on this though adds a few more ingredients that work to elevate the shrimp flavor even more than just having your basic ingredients.

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Bale Dutung: The four hour, 10-course degustation two hours away from Manila

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For the last day of the month, my friends and I decided to go to Bale Dutung in Pampanga for a 10-course degustation. The meal is prepared by Chef Claude Tayag who you might recognize from one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows (No Reservations, if I’m not mistaken) where he visited the Philippines.

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Seafood Risotto

Seafood risotto with shrimp, squid, lemon juice, fresh basil, italian parsley, and saffron.
Seafood risotto with shrimp, squid, lemon juice, fresh basil, italian parsley, and saffron.

This isn’t the best photo I can share but this was quite delicious! I made a seafood risotto with fresh shrimps and squid as my base ingredients. The stock I used was from the shrimp heads and some onions boiled for a couple of hours. Added into the mix was some parmesan, lemon juice, freshly chopped basil and italian parsley. The dish was topped with some parmesan crisps to add that little bit of crunch.

The dish was sweet, salty, with just a hint of sourness from the lemons!