|Adobong Bahay Itlog ng Manok|
Cow's tongue and beef tripe? Yes and yes.
Pig's face, intestines and blood? Mm-hmm, uh-huh and yup.
Chicken feet, gizzards and ovaries? Check, check and triple che-- say what?
I am not put off by offal. In fact, some of my favorite meals are made of 'nasty bits': I love lengua (tongue) in tacos and estofado (Sp. 'stew'), while tripe is tops in callos a la Madrileña and Mexican menudo¹. Mr. Noodle and I enjoy dinuguan (pork blood stew) and papaitan (goat bile soup) in all their gamey, slightly spicy, chock-full-of-intestines-and-who-knows-what-else glory. Even the Pupster gets his fair share - whenever there's lechon at a family gathering, my relatives know to set aside the ears and tail just for him.
Poultrywise, Mr. Noodle is particularly fond of chicken gizzards, especially the sweetish, smoky inasal (barbecue) skewers from Salcedo Saturday Market that have supplanted my stir-fried recipe as his current favorite. As for me, I've been known to inhale braised chicken feet doused in tausi (fermented black beans) sauce, heartily feast on grilled hearts and nibble unflinchingly on stewed cockscomb. There's not much from a chicken that I haven't tried... or so I thought.
A Sack of Egg Sacs
Literally translated as 'egg house', bahay itlog is the part of a hen's reproductive organs from which a chicken egg starts its development. The orangeish balls in those bags were indeed yolks but at the pre-insemination stage, before the albumen (egg white) and shell form around them just prior to laying. Seeing the visceral strands of pearl-like spheres varying in size from peas to ping pong balls brought to mind fluffy, chirpy chicks that would never be. I recoiled in universal female empathy; sure, I've eaten balut, but this was... different. For the first time, I understood why some guys wince at the thought of eating Rocky Mountain oysters.
However, my curiosity proved stronger than my sense of interspecies sisterhood and repulsion quickly turned into fascination. I had never seen or heard of chicken ovary dishes before, much less tasted them. According to my mother, bahay itlog is considered quite the delicacy. She recalled how they were prepared only on those occasions when the family cook purchased a laying hen² by chance and discovered the egg sac as the old bird was being readied for the pot. As it turns out, what's good for the chicken is good for its ovaries, too - the unlaid eggs were (and still are) commonly added to simmering chicken adobo.
The Multicultural Ovum
Of course, Filipinos are not the only ones who appreciate the tasty qualities of immature ova. A 2007 New York Times article, "What the Egg Was First", described how Dan Barber, executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill Farm and restaurants in New York and Connecticut, began experimenting with innovative ways to incorporate unlaid eggs into the menu. His recipes were new but their main ingredient was long familiar to staff and colleagues from such varied cultural backgrounds as Dominican, Goan and Alsatian. In the latter two, the not-quite-eggs were simmered (in curry and soup, respectively), a favored way of cooking them in other cuisines as well.
|Never been laid...|
Not one to pass up an opportunity to try something new, I bought a bag of bahay itlog, muttered an apology to all reproductive females in the universe, and headed home to expand my culinary horizon another nasty bit more.
1. As opposed to Filipino menudo, which uses primarily pork meat.
2. It's very unlikely that you'll find butchered hens with ovaries intact at the supermarket. Instead, talk to your local butcher or poultry farmer about procuring them fresh.
Adobong Bahay Itlog ng Manok
(Chicken Ovary Adobo)
My mother cautioned against refrigerating bahay itlog and insisted they be cooked immediately. I couldn't find any information online to support or disprove her advice about storing them, but it was just as well to take full advantage of absolutely fresh ingredients. Besides, family members (*ahem* Mr. Noodle) may not appreciate opening the fridge to find a bag of reproductive organs just sitting there beside the Greek yogurt.
Most of what I've read about the texture of cooked unlaid eggs describe them as either creamy and velvety, or chewier than a rubber ball. With a recipe like adobo for which a long, slow simmer is ideal, achieving the former is a matter of timing that may be difficult to hit, while risking the latter by overcooking the eggs is a definite possibility. My compromise was to add the yolks toward the end of cooking and watch them diligently, rather than leave the pot to simmer at leisure as I would normally do for adobo. Thankfully, I managed to produce balls of mildly yolk-y flavor, a consistency closer to that of hard-boiled egg white and the appearance of plump kumquats, as Japanese yakitori-lovers had astutely observed.
I'm happy to say that the dish was quite satisfactory over all and even earned my mother's proud approval. Not an ignorant child after all...
2 cups of bahay itlog, yolks separated from membranes and gently rinsed (I'm not sure how many separate ovaries were in the bag I purchased, but this was my yield.)
2 Tbsps canola oil, divided
1 lb (500g) boneless chicken thighs
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup cane or apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 bay leaf
1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat 1 Tbsp of oil over medium-high heat and brown chicken pieces, then remove and set aside;
2. Add another 1 Tbsp of oil and sauté garlic and onion until soft and fragrant. Return chicken pieces to pot and toss to mix;
3. Add all of the remaining ingredients and bring to a slow boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and let simmer for 20-30 minutes or until chicken is cooked;
4. While still simmering, gently add the bahay itlog to the pot, but do not stir immediately to prevent them from breaking. Cover and continue simmering for another 7-10 minutes, until the yolks start to cook;
5. Uncover and very, very gently, start tossing the mixture so that the yolks are in the sauce. You can also ladle the cooking liquid over the eggs to help them along. As the yolks cook, they will turn a lighter, more opaque yellow and will feel more firm.
6. Test one egg to make sure it's done, then remove from heat and let sit for a few minutes before serving. Served with steamed rice.
As with all adobos, this recipe benefits from being served a day or two after cooking. Just be sure to allow it to cool completely before storing in the refrigerator, then heating it back up slowly to avoid drying out or overcooking the meat and eggs.
Do you know of other recipes for chicken ovaries? If so, please share!