THE TABLE at Christmas is one of the most intimate moments in a Filipino family’s life. While everybody tries to act perfectly for the holidays, old jokes and old secrets always manage to bubble up to the surface, the effects of laughter or tears softened by the accompaniment of food made year after year at the family’s request, thanks to a devotion to tradition.
Celebrity chef Myrna Segismundo, who has the distinction of being one of the first Filipino chefs to present at Madrid Fusion in Spain, opened her heart by opening her kitchen and sharing some of her beloved Christmas recipes.
Ms. Segismundo presented her recipes as part of the Maya Kitchen Culinary Elite Series, a series of classes where chefs like Jessie Sincioco, Tatung Sarthou, Gene Gonzales, and Claude Tayag show off their favorites for people to learn and share on their own tables. The recipes, such as Mr. Gonzales’ Adobo Diablo and Ms. Sincioco’s Tiger Prawns with Laing are available on themayakitchen.com/culinary-elite-series.
Ms. Segismundo’s presented her Adobo Pate with Pepper Jelly and Toast Points, Salad of Young Ubod and Pomelo with Honey-Patis Dressing and a kinilaw of shrimps, with a dessert of Turrones de Manila topped off with Vanilla Gelato Spazzacamino.
Adorning this meal is Beef Morcon à la Emilia, a recipe she learned from her mother. The beef roll, made with beef sirloin and stuffed with chorizo, edam cheese, eggs, green olives and other things, was a frequent centerpiece at the Segismundo table. Ms. Segismundo, before her mother passed away, carefully documented each step of the process in order to successfully duplicate it for future Christmas feasts with her family.
“It defies the principles of cooking that I usually follow in a commercial operation,” she said. For example, her mother would spread butter on the cut of meat, or else rub the meat with the sofrito of tomatoes, garlic, and onions, as opposed to simply sauteeing it first, as Ms. Segismundo had been trained to do. Asked if her mother ever tasted her own version, Ms. Segismundo said no, and said: “At home, she and my yaya were the queens in the kitchen.”
“My cooking does not matter when she’s around,” she added. After all, wherever you go in the world, no matter who your mother was, apparently, she’s always the best cook. It’s not favoritism, she insists: “It’s tradition!”
While Ms. Segismundo might have ascended the heights of culinary service and pleasure in her cooking and her tasting — experience, we’re sure, which her family benefits from — the morcon still holds a precious place in all their hearts. “It’s the memory of what went into it and the thought that she’s still around by virtue of this dish is what makes it all the more special.”
While this morcon is a virtual relic from times that will never return, we asked Ms. Segismundo to explain how Christmas feasts have changed for families. Of course, more ingredients are available now, and catering is more accessible. “We don’t [always] have the luxury of househelp these days,” she said about the tedium of shopping, chopping, preparing, cooking, and then cleaning up after the feast.
“I have nothing against all this convenience food,” she said. “My only concern is that they [should] know what the traditional recipes call for. It’s good to tweak, but then again, you tweak from a classic.” One must, maybe, build the walls first before they can be brought down: a lesson in cooking and anything creative.
While Ms. Segismundo has fond memories of Christmas, resurrected every year because of her mother’s morcon, what memories do we create when our Noche Buena comes from a kitchen that is not one’s own? “Nothing wrong with that; it’s a matter of choice,” she said. “You [do] have to have an identity, kahit papaano.”
“Alam mo naman ’yan sa pagkain eh [You know how it is about food]. You go around. Catered food, hotel food, vs. food in a home where the cook is very good: laking difference ’di ba [huge difference, right]?” — Joseph L. Garcia
MORCON à la EMILIA
Serves 4 — 6
2 kgs. Beef Sirloin, cut into two portions, each measuring 8 x 5 x ½-inch slices (pound lightly if needed)
Juice from two lemons or limes or 10 pcs. calamansi
1 cup Soy Sauce
1 head Garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp. Black Peppercorns, cracked
1/2 cup Unsalted Butter
8-10 pcs. Sweet Pickles, quartered
4-6 pcs. Spanish Sausages (Chorizo) each cut into four horizontal strips
200 gms. Pork Fat, cut into 1/4 x 2-inch strips
1/3 kg. Edam Cheese or Queso de Bola cut into 1/4 x 2-inch strips
150 gms. Ham Strips
1 can Pimiento, sliced into strips
5 pcs. Eggs, boiled, peeled and wedged
2 pcs. White Onions, minced, sautéed in a little oil
4 pcs. Tomatoes, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped, sautéed in a little oil
Enough Water to cover meat
1 cup Tomato Sauce
3 pcs. Potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/3 cup Green Olives
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1. Marinade beef slices in lemon, lime or calamansi juice, soy sauce, garlic and pepper for two hours
2. Remove beef from marinade and spread slices flat on tray. Reserve marinade. Spread top side of each slice with butter. Line each center of the slices horizontally with strips of pickles, sausages, pork fat, cheese, ham, pimientos and boiled eggs. Roll each slice into a cylinder and tie with butcher’s thread to bind beef and stuffing. Rub and coat rolls with the sautéed onions and tomatoes.
3. Place beef rolls in a pot or casserole . Pour marinade. Add water and tomato sauce. Cook rolls covered over medium heat for about 30 minutes until sauce thickens or until beef is half-done. Add quartered potatoes and olives and continue simmering till beef is tender. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Cool beef rolls thoroughly. Remove string. Carefully slice the rolled beef into half-inch thick cuts making sure the stuffing is intact. Arrange slices neatly on a platter. Heat sauce with potatoes and olives. Pour sauce over slices and garnish with the potatoes and olives. Serve warm.