Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tapa, One of Our Oldest Favorites and One of the Easiest to Prepare

Tapa is probably one of the oldest culinary inventions known to us Filipinos. It is probably as old as the ingredient that makes it last for as long as it has: salt. Back in the day before refrigeration was invented, one of the most common methods of preserving food was to salt and sun-dry them, as in tapa. Along the way, homemakers added other ingredients to the basic tapa, like ground black pepper, garlic and a little sugar, plus saltpeter (salitre) to make the preservation even more long-lasting. But I had a rude awakening during a camping trip to Bishop years ago when a friend of mine surprised me with his own, simple version of tapa. His take was so simple, a non-cook could make it. When I fried my friend's beef tapa, I knew from the aroma that his would be the version that I would prepare from that day on. I have been replicating his recipe since that al fresco breakfast on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Bishop, California five years ago. He told me that his mother handed the recipe down to the family. Edgar's tapa recipe is Pampango in origin, and it achieves that distinction because it acquires a slightly musty aroma and a tangy taste after leaving the tapa out of the fridge for a couple or more days after it is treated. The longer you keep it out of the fridge, the mustier it will smell and more tangy it will taste. I put my tapa in the fridge after two or three days, depending on the weather. The colder the weather, the longer I keep it out. Today, the tapa that I prepared on Sunday will stay out of the fridge for three days. It will be ready to fry on Wednesday evening when my daughter would ask, "Dad, what's for dinner?" and I would be lazy to cook anything else and would answer, "beef jerky."


(2) pounds of beef chuck, sirloin, tenderloin, or London broil, sliced 4 to 5-mm thick
(2) tablespoons salt
(1) tablespoon sugar


Mix the salt and sugar together and sprinkle the mixture on the sliced meat; do not rub on the meat. Place in a covered container and keep in room temperature for two to three days, depending on the level of fermentation that you prefer.

Some people prefer to have their tapa smelling a little musty and tasting a little tangy. And that's the way I like them too.

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