22 Dec / Rellenong Manok–A Very Special Pinoy Holiday Dish
Holiday traditions in the U.S. abound. From roasted goose to the Feast of Seven Fishes, many American immigrant communities bring a piece of their homeland to the Christmas table.
The Filipino dish rellenong manok (rel-ye-nong ma-nok) must be one of the most intricate and elaborate, both in terms of time and cultural complexity.
In predominantly Catholic Philippines, this labor-intensive dish is often the centerpiece of Noche Buena, the Christmas Eve feast usually eaten after midnight mass.
A hodgepodge of ingredients is stuffed into a deboned chicken marinated with soy sauce and the ubiquitous Filipino citrus, calamansi.
Depending on family tradition, stuffing ingredients may include any of the following: ground pork, Spanish chorizo, olives, raisins, ham, Spam, carrots, pine nuts and/or cheese. The chicken is then sewn up and roasted or fried. Rellenong manok follows the French classical cooking technique called galantine quite closely but has a Pinoy touch. Whole hardboiled eggs line the middle and when sliced, a halo of white surrounding yellow yolk shows its beautiful self.
As the Philippines was a Spanish colony for over 400 years, the name rellenong manok reflects its provenance. In Spanish, relleno means stuffed, and in Tagalog, manok means chicken. The use of soy sauce and lap cheong also reveals a Chinese influence.
Just as many traditional recipes change over time, rellenong manok is still evolving. Modern day takes include New York City restaurant Purple Yam’s poussin (Cornish game hen) stuffed with chorizo and chanterelles.
But the significance of this dish remains the same for many Filipino Americans. Jay Calabig’s grandmother used to make rellenong manok all the time, back in the Philippines and even after moving to the U.S. “During holidays, fiestas, birthdays … any major celebration, it (was) on the table.” When she passed away in 2000, Jay’s aunt took over this task.
Luckily for Jay, his aunt and her family, plus a slew of other relatives, live in the Greater Seattle area. Every holiday, they gather together and celebrate with a melding of American and Filipino traditions which never fails to include the family recipe for rellenong manok.
However, everyone agrees this facsimile is not as good as lola’s (grandma’s). “We say she probably did not give us the full recipe!” Jay jokes.
Nonetheless, the recipe and the ritual of serving rellenong manok are very important to Jay and his family. “Since my grandmother’s death, every time I eat this, it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling that in some way, my grandmother is still with us.”
For Jay, this dish embodies his culture and reminds him of his fun childhood and family celebrations in the Philippines. “I am just glad that my aunt keeps the tradition of making this complex dish alive for us.” And by continuing to make this dish, she’s also helping keep these memories alive.