A blurry picture is better than no picture. Perhaps it was all the beer.
I didn’t even know the name of the dish (pronounced es-toe-pow) – let alone the regional variations on the name (it is also known as estopado or estofado) – when I was growing up. Not for lack of eating it – my sister and I would request it regularly. That conversation went something like this:
Me: Hey Mom, could you make that pork stuff with the potatoes that Staci likes?
Mom: What? Estopao?
Me: Yeah, what you just said.
Mom makes a minimalist version with pork or chicken, potatoes, soy sauce and a touch of vinegar. Sometimes peas. Always garlic. My mom isn’t big on measurements or formal recipes in cooking. She prefers to taste her way through a dish, making sure everything tastes “right.” When the home-sickness hit in college, I’d call home for a recipe and Mom would give me some general instructions, leaving me to rely on my memory to reconstruct the correct ratio of ingredients. Estopao was one of the dishes I dutifully reconstructed and, eventually, reinvented for myself. Mom’s instructions to me over the phone went something like this:
Mom: Cup up the pork and put in the pan so it’s a little bit cooked. Then put in a little garlic and soy sauce and then potatoes. Put in enough water and boil it until it’s done.
Me: How much soy sauce?
Mom: You know, until it tastes right.
Me: What about vinegar?
Mom: Just a little.
Me: Anything else?
Mom: It’s good with peas and some carrots. Oh, and you can put some tomato in.
Well, the carrot and tomato was news to me. For my first couple tries, I stuck with the minimalist version I remembered. Later on, I started playing with the dish and incorporated my mom’s suggestions.
The flexibility is what I love most about the dish because it’s the flexibility that reflects the multi-cultural heritage of the Philippines and myself. The pork and fish sauce (used in many recipes, although we rarely had patis in the house I grew up in) represent the southeast Asian and native heritage. The soy sauce speaks for the Chinese influence. The potatoes, tomato and bay leaf are clearly Spanish additions. Through my own experiments, I’ve expanded my mom’s carrot suggestion to include celery and onion as well (the “holy trinity” of French cooking and the flavor base of many of my Irish/Dutch great-grandmother’s recipes). Sometimes I’ll add chile peppers.
The result is something that the people of around me keep asking for. The meat is tender from the braising, the vegetables fragrant and slightly sweet from browning, the sauce thick and tangy from tomato paste, soy sauce and vinegar flavors marrying. The potatoes are tender but keep their shape. The fish sauce adds depth without tasting “fishy.” A little tapioca flour thickens things up.
We recently discovered that estopao is delicious paired with a pilsner. On a chilly Friday night, we paired it with the Coney Island Mermaid Pils from Schmaltz Brewing Company. The beer was a crisp, bubbly lager – slightly hoppy, but not too bitter – which was a nice contrast to the heavy meat and potatoes dish. Rye gives the light pils depth and keeps it from being overpowered by tangy vinegar in the stew.
I made estopao with beef for Raphe’s old roommate once. Now every time I see him the conversation goes something like this:
Roommate: Hey Marni, can you come over and make that Filipino beef stew stuff?
Me: What? Estopao?
Roommate: Yeah, that stuff. It was aaaaaaawwweesome.
And the cycle continues.