Pato Halang-Halang

duckhalanghalangfo2
Our “Pato Halang-Halang” is more on the dry, thick side than the soupy side. Add more water if you prefer soupy!

“Halang” means “spicy”, “chili hot” and for many in the Visayas and some in Mindanao, “halang-halang” is real comfort food. The meat used in halang-halang is chicken, preferably native chicken or manok Bisaya. In the Tagalog region, the “Halang-Halang” is often compared to the “Chicken Tinola.”

Regional Variations of the (Chicken) Halang-Halang

While there are regional variations, such as a dry stew or a clear broth, the base for “Chicken Halang-Halang” is often coconut milk. Green birds eye chilli provide the most exquisite heat although red chilli as well as siling haba or siling espada (long green chilli) can also be used. The subtle flavour of this delicacy also varies: ginger and lemongrass (tanlad) is the most widely used in Bohol. In some places it is turmeric (luyang dilaw). Others include basil leaves, peppercorns, Chinese chives or spring onions. In some instances, some vinegar is used to wash the meat if not added in the initial sautéing of the meat with the panakot (sauté ingredients such as garlic and onion) – a technique that helps reduce the gamey smell and taste of native chicken.

Green unripe papaya for the
Green unripe papaya for the “Halang-Halang.” Substitute with sayote or labong (bamboo shoots), or carrots and potatoes.

Vegetables to Use

The type of vegetables added to the stew vary, depending on tradition and availability. Fleshy vegetables are desired as focal ingredient since the native chicken does not have a lot of meat. Vegetables of choice may be sayote or unripe papaya. More expensive commercial vegetables such as potatoes and carrots may also be used instead.

Secondary vegetables add colour, contrast and subtle flavour to the stew. Examples used may one of or a combination of chilli leaves, string beans, spinach, malunggay leaves, and atsal (native red bell pepper). More interesting versions include the addition of (one or more of the following): coconut meat cut into strips, sliced bamboo shoots (labong), fish sauce (often added in the sauté), soy sauce (used to marinate the chicken for a few minutes),

“Halang-Halang” has strong spicy flavour so it needs to be eaten with a starchy staple such as rice. In Bohol, the famous ubi – boiled and peeled – particularly the white (kabus-ok) variety, is excellent.

duckhalanghalangcooking

Cooking “Halang-Halang” takes an hour or so, depending on the meat used. Older native chickens are tougher and can take longer to cook. So the best way to cook “Halang-Halang” is over wood fire, instead of gas or electricity, to be more economical. Wood fire also imparts this subtle smokey flavour to the stew, something which we often take for granted and then become nostalgic for when we move to the city and only use gas stoves or electric stoves.

A number of times we have used duck to make “Halang-Halang.” I have to admit that nothing beats the native chicken when it comes to “Halang-Halang”. Maybe this means we’ll need to improvise and invent a new variant of “Halang-Halang” that would be most suitable for duck.

Fresh ginger and freshly extracted coconut milk.
Fresh ginger and freshly extracted coconut milk.

Nevertheless, today’s experiment was a success, though not a resounding one. We used ingredients from the garden: unripe papaya, lemongrass, sigarilyas (winged beans), ginger, atsal, red and green chilli and coconut milk squeezed from fresh grated coconuts. We have not been successful growing garlic or onions so we had to get those from the public market.

Dressed duck ready to cook!
Dressed duck ready to cook!

Duck Bacon?

The duck carcass, about 4 months old, weighed 1.25kg. I took the breast and meaty thighs for an experiment in curing (or what I call, “duck bacon.”) The deboned breast weighed about 250 grams and the meat of the thighs (with small bone included) weighed about 150 grams. I’ll post about the duck bacon later.

Making a Better Pato Halang-Halang”

When we make “Pato Halang-Halang” again, I would do the following to improve the taste and texture of the dish: (1) use coconut oil instead of vegetable oil to improve the flavour; (2) use more lemongrass (duck and lemongrass go very well together!) and birds eye green chilli (instead of red chilli) and chilli leaves (add the chilli leaves last just to wilt it instead of over-cooking it, otherwise it will be bitter); (3) use the second extract of coconut milk to the sauté to bring out its flavour and use the first extract of coconut milk when the stew is 10-15 minutes from done (this will prevent the stew from becoming too oily because the first extract of coconut milk produces a lot of oil when cooked for long time; (4) add more onions to the sauté and allow it to caramelise with the duck for subtle sweetness; (5) use vinegar to marinate the duck meat for a smoother cleaner flavour; and (6) cut the winged beans into thinner slices and add all vegetables (like the unripe papaya) last so they don’t overcook; it is easy to overcook food when you’re cooking over a wood fire.

If you have experience with cooking “Halang-Halang” in your home province, please share with us what makes your “Halang-Halang” special!

Halang-Halang must be served hot with rice cooked with fragrant pandan leaves!
Halang-Halang must be served hot with rice cooked with fragrant pandan leaves!

Pato Halang-Halang

(We encourage you to improvise on this basic recipe – substitute with ingredients available in your location; learn about tastes (spicy? salty? sweet? creamy? sour?), textures (thick? dry? soupy? oily?) and flavour (fragrant? gamey? savoury? herbal?) that you prefer and modify the recipe to suit that. For example, you can sauté with a bit of fish sauce or patis to deepen the savoury taste or marinate the duck in soy sauce instead of vinegar to make a richer bolder flavour; add more or less chilli to your taste; substitute ginger with turmeric, etc.)

Ingredients:

800 grams to 1 kilo whole dressed Muscovy duck (pato)
1 cup white vinegar
1 green unripe papaya of medium size, cut into small chunks
3 small native red bell pepper, sliced into strips
5 winged beans cut into thin slices
Coconut milk from one coconut (separate first and second extract)
1 cup of water
2 medium sized onions (sliced) and one head of garlic (crushed)
2 stalk lemongrass, white pulpy stems crushed and tied into a bundle
Ginger about a thumb size, sliced and crushed
Whole green birds eye chilli (labuyo)
A handful of chilli leaves
Spring onion, chopped
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Salt and crushed peppercorns
Coconut oil

Directions:

Clean the duck and cut into serving sizes. Massage it with vinegar and let sit for a while. Prepare the other ingredients. Drain the duck when ready to cook.

Heat oil in a suitable size stock pot. Add onion and garlic. Sauté until fragrant. Add the duck, ginger and lemongrass. Sauté until the duck skin becomes light brown on all sides and some of the duck fat begins to ooze. Add sugar and stir to cook evenly.

Pour second extract of coconut milk to deglaze the stock pot. Continue cooking and mixing for about 2 minutes. Add water, then cover and simmer until the duck meat is tender. Add more water if you prefer a soupy stew.

Add green chilli, papaya and native red bell pepper. Add the first extract of coconut milk. Simmer until the papaya is soft. Add salt and peppercorns to taste. Remove from heat and add the chilli leaves and spring onions. Serve piping hot!

Do Ducks Know How to Grieve?

Or as we humans define it, “feel intense sorrow”?

In early 2015, I saw the oldest drake in a group of about 15 ducks forcibly mating with a female duck of about the same age. I have read in various literature on ducks that the mating behaviour of ducks can be quite violent. So I assumed, despite the distressful appearance of the female duck, that what was happening was quite normal, just the way of nature. Besides, the ducks are free-range, so ducks can flee when they are threatened by other ducks.

deadduck

Unfortunately, in just a matter of minutes, I saw the female duck lying dead on the ground and the drake walking away. It was horrifying! I couldn’t believe it. I felt sorry and upset that I was wrong in thinking that the female duck would be alright.

A small group of ducks begin to gather near the dead one.
A small group of ducks begin to gather near the dead one.

Then some five minutes later, I saw a group of ducks converge near the dead duck. The female ducks were the first to gather, followed by the second (younger) drake. Soon, the ducks positioned themselves near the dead duck, looking on as if they were grieving.

A most curious behaviour of ducks gather near the dead duck, looking on, as if grieving.
A most curious behaviour of ducks gather near the dead duck, looking on, as if grieving.

This went on for about fifteen minutes until the older drake, the culprit, arrived. The other ducks looked at him.

The culprit arrives (encircled in the photo) and the others take notice.
The culprit arrives (encircled in the photo) and the others take notice.

Twenty minutes had passed when the young drake began to confront the older drake, causing the other ducks to slowly disperse.

The younger drake confronts the culprit and the group begins to disperse.
The younger drake confronts the culprit and the group begins to disperse.

That same day, I decided that we must cull the older drake. With him around, there had been constant fighting and forceful mating. Such behaviour not only distress the ducks but have also killed younger ducks that got caught in the fight. This decision to cull turned out to be a very good decision.

At the moment, we have two drakes that service some 10 female ducks. The two drakes also get along very well with each other, the older teaching the younger one about mating and looking after the females. It is necessary to cull in order to stop unnecessary stress in the duck population.

Providing Water for Ducks

ducksintheirpond2

While chickens bathe and clean themselves by dusting with sand or dry earth, our ducks prefer a good swim. The Muscovy duck is a tropical duck. It prefers habitats with water and sheltered trees. So if you’re thinking of keeping some ducks, you’ll need to make provisions for water.

In the beginning, when we had only a pair of ducks, we managed by providing them with a basin of water. As the duck population grew, a duck pond became a necessity.

A basin of water seems to suffice for one duck.
A basin of water seems to suffice for one duck.
Duck hen with her chicks having a well-accomplished bath in a tray of water.
Duck hen with her chicks having a well-accomplished bath in a tray of water.

Recently, in addition to the duck pond, we have provided trays of water for ducklings. This is a much safer alternative for them. If they joined the larger ducks in the pond, they often get hurt and drown. Usually, the hen will accompany her ducklings to the pond for a swim. She makes sure that they get to swim only after all the other ducks have left. However, that doesn’t always guarantee the duckling will be safe from larger ducks suddenly wanting to jump into the water.

Once, I saw an adult duck using the tray. As they say, if there’s a will, there’s a way. 😉 And she looks very much satisfied with the amenity. Thanks goodness there wasn’t any ducklings in that tray!

The Ugly Duckling …

… is really a bully duckling. It was sometime in March 2015 when I noticed the behaviour of one of many ducklings, one so determined to provoke and beat up anyone it came across. I was able to capture this hilarious though troublesome behaviour on video, below. You can see the mother trying to stop the bully duckling but to no avail.

I don’t know what has happened to this duckling – whether it is still around (unlikely, since all of our ducks are not so unruly but I’m willing to accept that the duckling could’ve undergone a religious experience 😉 ). Or it could have died while still young (we’ve had high mortality rates, as the duck population exploded, mostly due to crushing by larger ducks and aggressive pecking by chickens over food, not to mention being eaten by predators such as cats, snakes, large birds and monitor lizards). Or it could’ve grown up and was made into a stew.

Luckily, as they are free-range, ducklings can get away from aggressive behaviour like this. But once ducklings are kept inside coops and there happens to be a bully duckling amongst them, then there might be some real trouble. For now, we have been keeping very young ducklings in coops to protect them from predators and crushing, as well as to give them the chance to eat and get the strength they need without competition from larger ducks and chickens. So far so good.

If we ever have a bully duckling in the coop, it would be necessary to separate that duckling from the rest. But thank goodness ducks are generally not so prone to fighting as chickens are.