Earlier at seven in the morning the following day, before I began my planned three-hour reading period of Margaret Mead’s Male & Female, and to avoid getting distracted in the middle of it, I gave Joker 200 pesos to buy a native chicken in the market after he promised me to cook Pinikpikan for lunch. Pinikpikan is an Ifugao dish done by lightly beating the chicken before cooking it.
Halfway through my reading, Jeddy, Joker’s cousin, called from downstairs and told me that they were about to start. He instructed me to to bring my camera with me. I had told them beforehand that I wanted to document the process of cooking Pinikpikan. What I saw lying on the ground was a mature-looking hen with her prominent comb almost covering her left eye. Her legs were tied to keep her from escaping. I sensed an undeniable docility in the tragic hen’s eyes, as if she already had a full knowledge of her impending death that was bound to be a spectacle.
According to the Ifugaos, the coagulation of blood in the chicken renders it tastier than when it is prepared in the traditional way. One would know that the beating has been done properly when the chicken does not bleed when cut into pieces.
Joker related to me that there is a ritualistic dimension to the exercise. If somebody from the area is about to venture doing something big, for example taking an exam for admission in university or making important decisions such as those that have to do with business, marriage, and war, they prepare chickens this way. If the bile of the beaten chicken looks unhealthy then they are advised to postpone the task or, he said, another chicken is killed until they found one with a healthy-looking bile.
I was glad when Joker told me that they will not beat the chicken to death. Instead they will kill it in the traditional way, that is, quickly slit its throat, sear it with its feathers still on. Minus all the beatings and some violence.
Here’s how it’s done:
1. Choose a 7-8 months old chicken, preferably a free-range native chicken because it has darker (therefore tastier) meat and has not been fed commercial feeds that affect the taste of the meat. However, broiler may also be used.
2. Slit the chicken’s throat and drain the blood in a bowl with vinegar. The vinegar will keep the blood form curdling. Store the blood for future use. In our case, Jeddy’s uncle used the blood to cook Dinuguan (Chocolate Stew) which we ate while drinking Tapuy, an Ilocano rice wine before we had lunch.
3. Using firewood, sear the chicken. He advised to use firewood as the smoke from burning wood will add a delicate taste to the chicken. He’s well aware that there are restaurants in Manila serving the dish that use blowtorch. He confessed this is faster and produces more even burns, but said that it’s too inauthentic a process.
4. Remove the feathers layer by layer, plucking the already seared layer then placing the chicken back in fire after this is done. Repeat the process in as many times as required. I noticed that he made use of the chicken’s feather by inserting a stalk through its nose to give him a better hold of the chicken’s head.
5. When the chicken begins to turn black, remove it from fire and cut it up. Clean the entrails and all the rest of the internal organs. Do not discard them. In fact they’re the choicest parts. In rituals, these parts usually go to the headman.
6. Prepare the chicken and water, enough to cover the chicken, in a big pot. Peel three big ginger roots and two onion bulbs. Slice them thinly. Add them to the chicken and water. Use salt to taste. This dish is so simple that this very simplicity made it perfect.
7. Bring it to a boil. Cook chicken for 45 minutes or until tender. Make sure that the firewood is replenished regularly. Joker also recommended to use firewood when cooking this dish instead of cooking it on top of the stove. He did not, however, elaborate on the advantage of firewood over gas but I am heeding his advice next time I decide to cook this dish.
8. When chicken is cooked, add slices of chayote or green papaya. You may also add in young chayote stalks.
This dish is best served with indigenous rices varities such as tinawon, nagacadan, and julungan.
I felt like a powerful headman when the dish was served–I was given the best parts, but as sign of gratitude, I shared these to the people who partook with me that sumptuous lunch–Joker and his wife got the gizzard and Jeddy had half of the intestines. It was unforgettable. To date, nothing compares to that delicious and simple meal eaten under the scorching heat of the noonday sun while the cool breeze from the mountains of Banaue caressed my sunburnt cheeks.