My family spent the summer of 1965 in the Philippines, getting to know Mom’s side of the family. We stayed in her childhood home and immersed ourselves in a world that at first glance seemed very different from the one we knew “back home” in America. Yet, strip away the outward surroundings, and it really wasn’t different at all. The same can be said for families everywhere. Families gathered, visited, enjoyed one another and ate. When you think about it, a typical family scene plays out every day throughout the world. The “native” foods vary from country to country and the language spoken might not be the same, but the warmth, laughter and the love for one another are universal.
One of my fondest memories (aside from being surrounded by countless cousins) was the barbecued meats on a stick – pork or chicken were the most common meats served. The marinade has a flavor all its own, different from anything else. If allowed, I could have eaten it every night and not grown tired of the flavor.
Years later, a Filipino-owned restaurant opened along the river on the outskirts of my home town. My cousin, Joey, was a friend of the owner, Rick. Joey called me, all excited, that Rick’s Place served the same wonderful barbecue chicken on a stick we knew in Paco (our family compound in Manila). In Paco, Filipino barbecue was a fun food served on a stick that was always a hit with the kids. I remember eagerly standing by the make-shift Habachi grill just waiting for those yummy pieces of chicken to be ready. At Rick’s, the marinated chicken was served as an appetizer. Hubby, Joey and I spend an entire evening at Rick’s Place on the River eating nothing but appetizers – we’re talking a lot of appetizers!
That evening sparked my desire to make the wonderful “stick food” at home. I searched through scraps of paper of family recipes for the marinade recipe and came up empty. At every family gathering and reunion, I asked my Titas (Aunts), each having their own take, but none were “just right”. The usual response was “That’s easy – 7-Up, garlic and ketchup.” Like most natural-born cooks, my Titas never measure anything.
I scoured cookbooks, sampling them all. While some were closer than others, none was exactly what I remembered. Something unique was missing. I was about to give up, when I shared my sad plight with a Filipino co-worker who asked a simple question “Are you using banana ketchup?” Banana ketchup? Really? Much to my surprise, there is such a thing, although not called “ketchup” but rather “sauce” and it can be found in the international or oriental section of a well-stocked grocery store.
Pulling from all my assorted recipes and replacing the ketchup with banana sauce, I gave it a whirl. Wow – pagkasakdal (perfection)!
Fabulous Filipino Barbecue Chicken
3-4 lbs Boneless Chicken Thighs (see note)
1 Cup Soy Sauce
6-8 Cloves of Garlic, minced
1 Onion, Finely Chopped
¼ Cup Lemon Juice
½ Cup 7-Up
1 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
3 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
½ Cup Banana Sauce (found in Oriental or International section)
10-15 Bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes prior to use
Cut meat into long, thin strips – no more than ¼-inch thick, 2 inches wide.
In a non-reactive bowl, mix soy sauce, minced garlic, onion, lemon juice, ground pepper, sugar, banana ketchup and soda. Whisk to blend. Reserve about 1/4 or so of marinate to moisten cooked chicken.
Place meat strips in a casserole dish or marinating container. Pour sauce over meat and refrigerate for several hours or over night for best results. Turn meat occasionally for even saturation.
Prepare a hot grill. As the coals are heating, string the meat onto the bamboo skewers in a ribbon-like fashion.
When coals are ready, place skewers on the hot grill and cook for about 10-15 minutes, turning every few minutes on each side. Use leftover reserved marinade to baste meat while cooking. (Remember – if using chicken, stop basting during the last few minutes to prevent contamination of the meat).
Plate skewers on a serving platter and enjoy.
Note: This works well with Pork Tenderloin cut into strips.