Nuts are a great addition to any dish. Apart from being great sources of good fat, fiber and protein, nuts add texture and mild, but unmistakable, flavor to whatever you add it to. Nuts can also provide creaminess to dishes when ground into a paste and is a healthier and more flavorful alternative to starches when thickening sauces.
Locally, I can only think of a few savory dishes that make use of nuts in savory dishes. Most popular among nut-based dishes is of course, kare-kare. There are a few claims as to the origin of kare-kare. Pampanga, Rizal and Tawi-Tawi seem to all have a claim to the origins of the dish. What is common though is the theory that the dish is a “version” of Indian curry, probably toned down to local taste. There are some Asean neighbors that also make use of peanuts in their sauces, most notable among them, gado-gado and satay from Indonesia. Wherever and whatever the origin, kare-kare has been, for at least over a century, a mainstay in Filipino dining tables.
While trying to think of other dishes that make use of nuts, I couldn’t help but think of the peanut sauce for the iconic Aristocrat barbecue. Unlike satay sauce, Aristocrat’s version is still soy sauce-based, like most Filipino barbecues. This sweet, nutty addition to grilled chicken or pork, seems to be a hybrid between Indonesian satay and Japanese Teriyaki, both perfect for anything grilled.
While I know I can never replicate the original, my attempt at reproducing Aristocrat’s trademark barbecue sauce is my way of paying homage to the institution in Filipino cuisine that Aristocrat is. For home cooks like me, especially for those who live abroad and do not have access to their favorite Filipino restaurants, I hope this version can do for now, just until they can get back home. There is a reason overseas Filipinos make Aristocrat Roxas Boulevard their usual first stop just after exiting the airport complex.
Food from your home or your childhood can serve as a balm for anything from years of loneliness and homesickness to something as simple as midnight munchies. Iconic restaurants like the Aristocrat have Filipino tastes and culture down to pat, they wouldn’t have lasted 80 years if they didn’t. For those who haven’t had their famous chicken barbecue in years, I’d suggest you drop by for a bite. And for those, who are just too far away and cannot get to a branch anytime soon, this recipe might do for the meantime.
Chicken barbecue with peanut sauce and java rice
For the barbecue:
1 kg boneless chicken thighs
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp peanut butter
12 pcs bamboo skewers, soaked in water
- Slice each chicken thigh into four or six pieces depending on the size.
- Place chicken in a mixing bowl and add soy sauce, onion and garlic powders, sugar, pepper and peanut butter.
- Mix everything thoroughly and let the chicken marinate chilled for three hours or more.
- Once marinated, skewer chicken pieces and grill over charcoal or grill in an oven or turbo broiler for 15 minutes or until done.
- Baste chicken with peanut sauce halfway through cooking and keep basting until cooked.
For the peanut sauce:
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp onion powder
2 tbsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
- Place all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer on low heat.
- Whisk sauce while simmering and continue cooking until desired thickness is achieved.
- Reminder: the sauce thickens further once cool, so cook a touch thinner than desired final viscosity.
For the Java rice:
6 cups cooked rice
1/4 cup oil
2 tbsp achuete seeds
1 pc onion, finely chopped
2 heads garlic, peeled and minced
salt to taste
- Heat oil and add achuete seeds. Once the seeds start to “bleed,” turn heat off and swirl. Strain seeds out.
- In a wok, sauté onions and garlic in achuete oil for two minutes or just until softened.
- Add cooked rice, season with salt and stir-fry until rice is uniformly orange in color.