Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Anthony Sinsay's Mussels Adobo

Do you talk to your food? Anthony Sinsay does. The executive chef at Duke's La Jolla, which opened last November, says that this conversation helps you learn where your food is in the cooking process. Sinsay was showing me how he makes his signature dish, Mussels Adobo, which I had fallen in love with at dinner a few months back. He had sautéed a sliced jalapeño, garlic, and onion--one of the best fragrances ever, of course. Then he added the ebony Prince Edward Island mussels to the pan. He stopped talking to listen.

"You'll hear the mussels purge their water," he said. "Then you know you need to add a little liquid to keep them moist."

Sinsay has been cooking most of his life. He said with smile that his mom was no cook. But his dad was. Sinsay especially loved waking up to the scents of Thanksgiving dishes his father prepared from early in the morning to ready for hordes of cousins to eat at midday. Sinsay spent hours and hours with his dad, who suffered from congestive heart failure, watching cooking shows with him--Julia Child, Martin Yan, Jeff Smith--until he passed away when Sinsay was just 11 years old.

"I remember my dad through cooking," Sinsay says with emotion. "After he died, there was no one to cook. My siblings were much older so when I got home it was my job to make dinner."

Sinsay's culinary inspiration came from his dad. But after he died, his mom began exposing him to restaurant dining. "We dined out a lot with my Mom at places like Mr. A's," he said. "By the time I was 15 I knew I wanted to go into culinary."

Sinsay attended Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, learning the fundamentals of European cuisine. But over the years it's become important to him to infuse his dishes with his Filipino heritage. "These are flavors and techniques that come naturally to me."

It's become especially meaningful since he and his wife Elyse have had kids. "Food is a huge component of being Filipino. I want my kids to understand that there's more to life than Happy Meals. I want them to understand where they come from."

So, for instance, for their birthdays, he makes them pancit, a traditional noodle dish filled with vegetables. Like the Chinese, who introduced noodles to the Philippines, Filipinos believe in the symbolism of noodles representing long life and good health.

Now the Mussels Adobo, which Sinsay also used to make at Burlap when he ran that kitchen, is inspired by his mom. "She grew up in the southern part of the Luzon Island in the Philippines. She made this dish with chicken that would simmer in the adobo sauce. I like making it with mussels, but I had to add sugar to the adobo sauce recipe to compensate for the shortened cooking time. When you cook vinegar a long time it becomes sweet. This dish with mussels cooks so quickly I needed to add a sweetener."

This dish is based on a traditional adobo sauce--soy sauce, vinegar, and water. Sinsay quickly whips up the sauce and sets it aside while he first sautés the vegetables, then adds the mussels. He mixes in the adobo sauce and covers the pan, cooking the mussels until they open. Then, in what takes the dish to a seductive level, Sinsay adds coconut cream and butter. That's it. Oh, except for one more critical addition: grilled pan de sal, the addictive sweet white Filipino yeast bread. Just brush slices with olive oil and toast on a grill until crispy--then try not dunking them in the luscious mussels sauce. I dare you!

Mussels Adobo
From Anthony Sinsay of Duke's La Jolla
(printable recipe)
Serves 4

Adobe is the national dish of the Philippines and varies from region to region. This version is closest to the adobo I grew up with made by my mother from southern Luzon. The sauce is an acidic broth comprised of white distilled vinegar, soy sauce, and water. Cooked with onion, garlic, and jalapeño balancing sweet, umami, spicy, and salty. It's finished with coconut cream and butter to enrich the flavor and texture. The Pan de Sal is a Filipino yeast-risen dough with a slight sweet flavor, contrary to what the name suggests. Garnish the mussels with chive spears and crispy garlic chips (slice the garlic thin, blanch, then fry).

3 ounces adobo sauce (see below for recipe)
1/2 ounce of olive and canola oil blend
1 jalapeño, sliced in rings (include seeds if you want more heat)
1 1/2 ounces yellow onion, sliced in rings
1 whole peeled garlic clove, minced
9 1/2 ounces mussels, cleaned
1 1/2 ounces coconut milk
1/2 ounces butter
.1 ounce fresh chives, sliced into 2-inch pieces
1 loaf pan de sal, sliced
Olive oil

For adobo sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup distilled vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup water

1. Make adobo sauce: Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly until all sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
2.  Sauté the jalapeño, onion, and garlic clove in oil. Brush pan de sal slices with olive oil and grill.
3. Add the mussels and stir together.
4. Add the adobo sauce, stir together, and cover, cooking until the mussels open.
5. Remove lid and remove mussels from the heat. Stir in coconut cream and butter. Taste the sauce and add salt if necessary to balance the flavor.
6. Garnish with chives and garlic chips (optional). Serve with grilled pan de sal.

Duke's La Jolla is located at 1216 Prospect St. in La Jolla Village.

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