I burn my first attempt at making dulce de santol: as in, the stuff is so black, it’s the kind of thing cookbook authors describe as “…beyond rescuing…you might as well throw it out.” And so I do.
There are times when I get so enchanted with a dish that I’m determined to replicate it in my own kitchen. It’s happened with squash and buko, and now, the dulce de santol of Chef Ed Quimson which he served at his recent guest stint at Paseo Uno. It’s the amber color that snags me in its spell really, as well as the syrupy sweetness tickling the back of my throat. It reminds me of the bottled stuff labeled “Santol Jam” that my parents used to buy from Good Shepherd in Baguio.
Dulce de Santol is sweetened ”“ some say, preserved ”“ santol. The fruit is boiled down in sugar and water until it caramelizes, its natural pectin contributing that gorgeous reddish-brown hue. It’s a more sophisticated, and obviously fussier (!) take on eating raw santol that I usually nosh on with a dip of salt, sugar, and chili powder. I also speculate if there really is any satisfaction derived from eating santol ”“ sucking on the seeds certainly isn’t very exciting; more often than not, the seeds are a vehicle for my dip of salt and sugar. And the rind can be quite sour, too.
Santol is a tennis ball-like fruit, a combination of yellow and green wrinkled skin. A fruit that can only grow in tropical climes, santol can be found in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei, and India. Its rind is downy and thick, almost as much as half an inch of it protecting the opaque, somewhat juicy pulp of three to five seeds. The seeds are inedible and quite large; I sometimes wonder if I’d choke to death if I accidentally swallowed one of them darn things.
After procuring another two kilos of santol, I peel the skin off of each one with my paring knife. The exterior of the santol quickly darkens when exposed to air, just like avocados and bananas. After peeling, I’ve got a nice mountain of the fruit that I then “dredge” in sugar and tightly seal with plastic wrap.
After 24 hours (“… and make sure it’s really 24 hours, ok Lori!” I remember Chef Ed saying while he was dictating the recipe to me), I pull the bowl out from the fridge. The santol hasn’t leeched out much juice, but what there is is fragrant ”“ a wine-y scent touched with jasmine. I’m excited to see how this turns out.
I enlist my Bin to help me score the santol thrice on each fruit. He’s on his way out the door and his mind is clearly not with me anymore, but he humors me by being my “hand model” for this shot. The scoring will help “divide” the fruit as it cooks, breaking down its segments into more manageable portions.
The santol is transferred into a pot to which I add a cup each of water and sugar. (Looking back, I should’ve added more water for more juice). I leave it to boil but remain nearby. Whenever I’ve got something in the oven or on the stove, I’m never very far away. I consider everything that comes out of my kitchen as “my baby” and so I bestow each one with love and attention. It’s a quirk, yeah.
Here’s “my baby” after 30 minutes. No dramatic change, but the sugar has almost soaked through the fruit.
An hour later, some “scum” has appeared ”“ this is typically what happens for anything that’s being stewed or braised. I skim off the scum, or sugar bubbles with a slotted spoon.
After an hour and a half of cooking, the mixture is at a full boil. The skin has softened considerably, rendering the pulp almost translucent. I lower the heat to a moderate simmer. During the cooking, I often thrust my nose into the pot, mere inches away from the bubbling liquid. Inhaling deeply, my lungs are filled with hot air and the perfume of santol and sugar. It’s a heady scent and so is the food facial I’m receiving from sticking my head into the pot.
Here’s the finished dulce de santol after two and a half hours of cooking. It displays that characteristic amber sheen and the sauce has the viscosity of honey. The santol skin is now very soft, falling apart almost.
How thick (and sweet) the sauce will be depends on how long the mixture is boiled down. I wanted it liquid enough to slide off a spoon, but with that tongue-coating, sticky quality that threatens to seal my lips shut when I smack them together. This is a formidably concentrated dulce de santol; a dessertspoon might stand straight up in it. Though it’s very sweet, there are brooding accents of a light red wine and a santol aftertaste that lingers pleasingly.
It’s ironic that the words most used to describe dessert ”” rich! sinful! devilish! sweet! ”” gloss over the relatively modest ingredients used to make them; in this case, just santol, water, and sugar. And yet, as I sit down to enjoy my homemade dulce de santol, I’m reminded that food, or even sweets such as this are less about gastronomy than harmony. It’s the simple things done well that compel.