Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Every once in a while, I get the inspiration to cook morcon (meat roll). Morcon is a classic Filipino dinner fare whose origins, I suspect, is Spanish, although I have not verified that. My mother, when she was alive, used to prepare morcon for special occasions like Christmas Day and town fiestas. It belongs to her wide repertoire of culinary specialties, and it is right up there with caldereta (spicy stewed beef) and milkfish relleno (stuffed bangus). I've just recently found the confidence to cook morcon, even though I have considered it one of my favorite recipes for a very long time.
On Saturday, while weekend shopping at our Ralphs supermarket in Glendale, we picked up a package of flank steak in the meat section, and handling it, I knew how it would end up. Morcon it is. Although, on this occasion, I am using flank steak -- it is convenient and quite inexpensive -- I have used other cuts of beef, including chuck. In my book, any cut of beef that lends itself to stewing qualifies as starting point for a delicious meat roll. I marinate the flank steaks in soy sauce, rice vinegar, minced garlic, a bit of salt, a laurel leaf, and dash of pepper. I leave the marinated fillets in the fridge for 30 minutes.
If, for any reason, flank steak is not available, I look for a large whole, thick cut of stewing beef, and I do the rest in my kitchen, slicing the beef into approximately 1/3-inch thick fillets, making sure while filleting that the meat remains in one piece. If I end up with 12-inch by 6-inch fillets, I am happy with that.
Morcon's culinary attraction also lies in what goes in the roll, and in my version, I have adapted what my mom used: sweet pickles, carrots, wieners, and hard-boiled eggs. These ingredients are cut into 1/4-inch strips, and gently and meticulously arrayed inside the fillets of beef. After which, I slowly roll the fillets around them until I decide that they are filled just enough to keep them from bursting. To keep them from bursting and spilling their fillings, I tie up the rolls in twine, rolled all around. My mom used to wrap them in a piece of white cloth, in the absence of twine.
Searing the rolls in very hot cooking oil in a skillet -- I use a wok -- until they are slightly browned to give them the right appetizing patina and readies them for a two-hour braising in a 350-degree oven. I use a covered metal roasting pan with a non-stick platform that's about 1-inch tall. I pour in two cups of beef stock, plus the marinade, to keep the meat from drying up. depending on your needs and taste, you can add diced potatoes, carrots, and mushroom into the braise as sidings. I also add onions, tomatoes (canned stewed) or fresh, and a teaspoon of corn starch to thicken the broth a little.
My morcon is just right after a 1.5- to 2-hour braising. You need to cut up the twine before slicing your meat roll. Slice your morcon with a very sharp knife, after giving it at least 10 minutes to cool down. That way the slices will be perfect and will not crumble. I think mom would be proud of my morcon.