I caught some young friends talking about the difference between Afritada, Caldereta and Mechado. I am at a certain age when I feel I have to pass on what I know to younger persons. My prayer is that this gesture will be welcomed!
When the Spanish landed on our shores in 1521, the Cebuanos were already adept at making Kinilaw, cooking raw fish with vinegar; Sinugba, cooking over live coals; and Tinuwa, a kind of soup with fish or chicken. We also cooked pork in vinegar and salt, which was the precursor of the Cebuano Adobo.
Now, these three dishes, Afritada, Caldereta and Mechado are basically stews which have tomatoes or tomato sauce as a base. These are of course dishes we learned to cook from the Spanish who colonised us for more than three hundred years. The use of tomatoes is a big giveaway. Tomatoes were brought to us from Mexico by the said colonisers during their numerous transpacific voyages.
Afritada, Caldereta and Mechado are easy to distinguish from each other. First is the meat used for each dish. Afritada uses chicken. Sometimes cooks use pork and this is the source of the Ginamay which uses pork cut into small pieces as well as the other ingredients namely, potatoes and carrots.
Caldereta is a stew made with goat’s meat. Cebuanos love goat’s meat. Cows are not native to the Philippines, these were brought here by the Spanish and until now beef is still an acquired taste to the Cebuanos. The secret to a good caldereta is knowing how to prepare it. The fat must be discarded and all membranes encasing muscles must be removed. Then the cut up meat is soaked for a while in salted water. The ingredients are the same as the Afritada but with the addition of pineapple slices. That is the Cebuano Caldereta.
Now we finally can talk about the Mechado. The meat used is beef. The best cut for this is a round steak. This cut is tough and requires long slow cooking. First ask the butcher to make an incision in the middle of the meat and have him insert a long piece of pork fat inside the incision. This is like the wick of a candle – the thick twisted thread in the candle. That is where the dish got its name. The meat has a wick or mecha in Spanish. Like the Afritada and Caldereta, it has potatoes, carrots and tomatoes or tomato sauce.
Here then is an easy recipe for Mechado.
1 round steak beef ( ask the butcher to insert pork fat inside)
1/2 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 big round onion, peeled and chopped
2 laurel leaves
4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 medium sized carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch rounds
1/2 cup green olives
1 big can tomato sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Wash the meat. dry with a paper towel. Rub with salt and a little paprika.
In a large casserole, fry the meat in a little olive oil. Turn around until a little browned. Set aside.
In the same casserole, add the rest of the olive oil and sauce the garlic and onion.
Place the browned meat at the bottom of the casserole and pour in enough water to cover the meat. Let boil then reduce the fire to low. Simmer for 2 hours or until the meat can be easily pierced with a fork.
Pour in the tomato sauce and add the potatoes, olives, carrots and the laurel leaves. Simmer until the sauce has reduced to half. This will be another hour.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Remove the meat and cool. Then slice into 1 inch rounds.
Serve in a big platter or bandehado. Place the meat slices in the middle and arrange all the vegetables around it. Pour some sauce on the meat. Serve the extra sauce in a bowl and place beside the platter.
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