Pinikpikan - a supertasty Filipino chicken soup done by gently beating the bird to death

Taken from this article (Not for the squeamish)

Ringside view of 'pinikpikan' process

First posted 10:58pm (Mla time) June 07, 2006 By Micky Fenix

Editor's Note: Published on Page D4 of the June 8, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

MY pinikpikan experience consists of eating the dish, twice at the Café by the Ruins and once at Ebay's near the Narda's outlet. It was like tasting tinolang manok, only more complex than trying to discern what made this soup dish so mysterious.

My information on the process of making pinikpikan was, at most, hearsay. Everyone described it by using the song title "Killing Me Softly" because the main ingredient, a fowl (wild bird, duck or chicken) was beaten to death but gently, if there's such a thing.

The Internet has something on the process, in word and pictures. But there's nothing like seeing it firsthand. And so when a friend, Aling Christie, said she would do it for the family lunch marking our mother's first death anniversary, I looked forward to documenting making pinikpikan from scratch.

Bicolana 'expert'

Three native chickens were brought, all from our guest cook's hometown in Naga. It seemed strange that a Bicolana was doing a Cordillera specialty. But she explained that, on her father's side, her grandmother was from the Mt. Province while her grandfather was from Bicol. And so she and her sister learned how to do the pinikpikan in Baguio where she grew up. Surprisingly, they had also been taught the pinikpikan by their American teachers in their home economics class at the Easter School where they studied until high school. I thought it such a wonderful policy to include traditional cooking as part of cooking lessons.

The other important ingredient of pinikpikan is the etag, the salted pork of the Cordilleras. Pork chunks are cured by salting (hence, its other name is inasinan). These are then dried in the cool Cordillera air. Etag gives the pinikpikan its flavor because no other seasoning, save for more salt, is added to the mix. But Aling Christie said she had run out of her supply of etag. So she bought about a kilo of pork liempo (belly), salted it and roasted it on charcoal. It will do, she said.

Odd one

Not one of my siblings wanted to watch, grimacing at the thought of witnessing chicken killed that way. That makes me the odd one in the family. It must have been because I always watched my grandmother start all her chicken dishes from scratch that it never bothered me. I thought that was the only way we could have chicken. Each of the pinikpikan chickens had its wings and feet tied together. The cook took one chicken, removed some of the feathers on its neck and started tapping it with a small flat stick. That both anesthetized and created blood clots, she said. You want the clots so that when the chicken is cut up, no blood is spilled.

The tapping is not done all over the chicken but only around the neck, inside the wings and at the inner thighs. While tapping the chicken, Aling Christie talked to each fowl, cajoling each to just sleep and thanking each for the service it was doing. The chicken hardly moved when the tapping was done. But it was still alive, as my son found out when one chicken was lowered into the boiling water for the final kill. It bolted from Aling Christie's firm hold and surprised him. The hot water makes it easier to remove the rest of the feathers. It also cleans the chicken. The whole chicken is then placed on the grill to burn the skin a bit. After that, each chicken is cut up.

The etag is finally cut and placed in the pot together with the chicken pieces. Water is added and then some salt. Everything is boiled. Aling Christie said it wouldn't take long to cook the pinikpikan because the chickens were fat and young. And so, for a little over an hour, the chicken and pork were cooked. The broth turned out to be rich and yellowish. We all had our spoons and dug in. Everyone kept going back, declaring the pinikpikan rich and flavorful and filling. It was better than any tinola of native chicken I ever tasted. The chickens and pork were indeed tender. It was the best pinikpikan I've had.

Great cook

It surely had something to do with Aling Christie being a great cook. She didn't have time to do her Arroz Valenciana to partner with the pinikpikan, she said. The last time we had it, the rice, including the chicken and everything else mixed in, was cooked perfectly. The secret, she declared, was letting the rice finish properly by cooking over very low fire, the procedure known as in-in. And she made the best laing, smooth and creamy when taken. She said she made sure the gabi (taro) leaves were from a particular place in Naga, picked by someone who really knew how, so the leaves didn't make the eater itch.

Pinikpikan can be just a dish, albeit an exotic one, especially for lowlanders. But Aling Christie said the cooking process could be a ritual that included prayers known as the ata. She said, with the prayers, were the acts of drinking a little gin from a small glass and puffing on a cigarette. The ritual of the pinikpikan was taught Aling Christie by her grandmother. None of her three daughters were interested. She has been training one of her nieces. This had to be passed on to the next generation, she said.

I tried the pinikpikan at Cafe By The Ruins, in Baguio. It was a large wooden bowl, filled with a dark brown liquid. The chicken leg meat was gum-bruising tough, and the skin was leathery, but it was flavorful; a big chunk of pork floated in the soup, almost as large as a small pork chop--that meat was a sin to eat, as it was made almost entirely of salty, pillowy-soft pork fat.

As for the broth itself--oh wow, that broth. Dark and powerful, dark as Igorot skin, and thick; you can feel your tongue struggling to wrap itself around that taste. It was like some mumbaki boiled half a dozen self-made chicken bouillon cubes in a cup of water, sprinkled mysterious herbs in it, then let it sit for a month and a half in a dark cave, praying over it all the while, only stronger. It made your toes curl and skin itch to think how much salty chicken fat was pouring into your veins.

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