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Chefs’ choices

By STEPHANIE ZUBIRI, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 17, 2021 5:00 am

Christmas has always been chaos in my home. As a child, the Dec. 24 had the house buzzing with happy energy. All kinds of delicious scents wafting from the kitchen, as they endeavored to cook for my large family.

We would always be at least 30 or so, with all my cousins, aunts and uncles, siblings and lonely stragglers that were always welcome to our open house. We always had the usual Noche Buena staples: a lovely, golden and crisp lechon; a glistening turkey; an inviting, generous paella; slow-cooked callos con chorizo; and my absolute favorite: Bacalao a la Rosa.

The Basque dish is made from salted cod, which is soaked in milk and rinsed thoroughly to remove the excess salt. Then it’s baked in a dish with caramelized onions, her special Spanish-style tomato sauce, thinly sliced potatoes, and some roasted bell peppers. Everything slowly cooks together, turning the potatoes into an almost creamy consistency and the flakey fish melding beautifully with the jammy tomatoes and sweet bell peppers.

Every Christmas, each bite of this is a remembrance of my lovely grandmother and a testament to my Basque and Negrense heritage. The holiday feast would not be the same without it.

Christmas is a time where we can truly savor our sentiments, as the dishes we cook are filled with love, tradition and nostalgia. Here I asked five chefs to share with us their favorite Filipino holiday dishes, and why it means so much to them.

Chef Cyrille Soenen of CiÇou à la Maison

What I really like to do and to eat during the holidays here in Manila with my family is my lechon de leche three ways. First way is the lechon de leche stuffed with some sausage, onions, garlic, mushroom, and a lot of herbs like parsley, chive, and spring onion. It’s so crispy and we love it! It’s a whole piece that is very presentable for the table and very festive.

Lechon de leche

The second way will be for the next-day lunch, where we just debone all the leftovers and sautée in a big pan to make it crispy and juicy again. Then we serve with a very nice rice cooked with butter and spring onions. It’s easy food and very good, particularly the next day after lots of heavy drinking. It’s perfect for hangovers!

The third way is all the leftovers again that I make into a soup for dinner. I make a very tasty and nice broth of the bones and add some herbs, rice, chicharron, and some leeks. That’s my favorite! The three-ways lechon de leche during the holidays!

Chef Aaron Isip of Gastronomade

Lobsterchon

I always look forward to lechon for Christmas in the Philippines as a kid; you really can’t have Noche Buena without it. I really do love the idea of surf and turf, so lately I’ve combined two of my favorite proteins from both sea and land — spiny lobster and lechon — to make one celebratory dish: Lobsterchon.

Chef RV Manabat

Bibingka

The aroma of toasted banana leaves embracing the freshly ground “galapong” (rice batter), Laguna salted eggs, coconut cream, sugar, butter or margarine. Just divine.

This “kakanin” brings back beautiful Filipino holiday flavors and traditions every Christmas. I would have this kakanin every day, but will definitely indulge in at least three pieces of bibingka on Christmas day!

Chef Chele Gonzalez of Gallery by Chele

Bibingka cheesecake

I love the Christmas ham! It’s become one of my favorite treats over Christmas in the Philippines. The cured ham is not that traditional in Spain so I just found it something that I like but that is mostly for the holidays, and therefore an item that connected me with the soul of Christmas and the Philippines. It sparks something inside me that makes me feel Christmas. I also love bibingka! And it’s so unique to the Philippines.

Chef Jordy Navarra of Toyo Eatery and Panaderya Toyo

My favorite filipino holiday treat is bibingka! I love it because I only get to have the charcoal version whenever we go or someone goes to Simbang Gabi, so it really makes me feel like the Christmas season is here.