ALMIRES Every Kitchen Needs One

As the clan's first granddaughter, I was recruited by Lola Tina for kitchen duty at the age of four. Lessons were daily and started with an early morning fun ride. From Lolo's jeepney factory in Pulanglupa, grandma and I rode a calesa to the Zapote public market in Bacoor, where I first learned the names of hundreds of varieties of vegetables, fruits, fish, crabs, shrimps and bivalves, as well as the various cuts of beef and pork.

Home from the market, we would take everything out of the bamboo shopping baskets and lay them out on the long dining table that doubled as working table between meals. There was a lot to do.

Fish had to be scaled, gutted, sliced and salted (if meant to be fried or broiled). Meat was washed and seasoned, then stored in an airy bamboo cabinet called paminggalan, which kept food safe from pets, pests and insects. Vegetables were peeled and sliced, the size and shapes dictated by what dish they're intended to be used in.

MOST USEFUL KITCHEN AID - And when all the ingredients are ready, it was time to take out the almires, a heavy mortar and pestle made of rough stone. The mortar was the size of a regulation basketball. We used the almires daily. It crushed garlic for fried rice and ginisa, cracked black pepper for adobo, ground peanuts for kare-kare, mashed broiled liver for lechon paksiw, chicharon bits for pancit palabok, bread crumbs to thicken mechado gravy and split roasted mongo for ginatang totong.

ORIGINAL MAGIC GINISA - The most important and frequent use for almires was to pound small crabs, collectively called pakot, to extract juices from their fat and flesh. After pounding the crabs to break the shells and mash the flesh, water was poured into the almires, whose bowl was scraped of all sticky crab juice. Everything was mashed then poured through a fine bamboo sieve to remove all broken shells. Sometimes the mash included pounded shrimp shells and heads when we made camaron rebosado.

This crab/shrimp extract was Lola's "magic ginisa" mix, providing a rich, deep flavor and protein to sautéed vegetables, pancit, chop suey and fresh lumpia. It is sad that these days, vendors no longer sell crabs of any size as pakot. Even the smallest alimasag are sold to be cooked whole.

I look for live tiny rock crabs called alimangong bato, which are very juicy and fatty, producing thick extract after pounding in an almires. Also good bargains are soft shell crabs called luno, which are sold for half the price of hard shelled crabs.

BASIC GINISA WITH PAKOT - Lightly brown onions and garlic in oil, add sliced tomatoes (as needed) and stir-fry until wilted. Pour in strained crab/shrimp extract and continue stirring to prevent large clumps from forming. Season with salt, patis or soy sauce and add the vegetables. Stir to cook evenly. Some vegetables cook better if the pan is covered for a few minutes to steam the vegetable until done.

The pakot's flavor is really essential in pancit palabok and pancit guisado. No store-bought cube or powdered flavoring can equal the seafood nuances that permeate every strand of noodle.

ADD EARLY, KEEP COLD - An important rule is to add the pakot extract early, to reduce the fishiness associated with crabs and shrimps. Mixing in the extract while adding the vegetables and noodles does not allow the proteins to cook enough, resulting in off flavors reminiscent of raw bagoong.

Equally important to remember is to keep the whole pakot, and the extract, cold. Shrimp and crab spoil very easily, especially in the hot and humid atmosphere of the kitchen.

Some smart chefs cook the ginisa to the point of adding the extract and simmering until done. They add the other ingredients later, minutes before the meal.

BURNT LIVER FOR LECHON - Lola always salted pork liver heavily before broiling the pieces over very high heat, aiming to have blackened burnt edges. The grilled liver pieces were cut into small cubes and pounded to a paste in the almires with roasted kasubha (local saffron), then stirred into a pot of lechon paksiw.

Try this trick next time you have leftover lechon; you will realize that in some recipes, the slight bitterness of burnt food produces a unique blend which separates the ordinary from the haute.

THE RIGHT ALMIRES - One of the most popular souvenir items from the island of Romblon is the marble mortar and pestle, glistening like semi-precious stone. Pretty, yes. Useful in the kitchen? No.

A kitchen almires needs to have rough surfaces, in order that the items being pounded do not slide or fly right out of the bowl while being pounded. This is particularly annoying when cracking whole black peppercorns.

NO TO WOOD OR METAL - We have, over the years, been gifted with several wooden almires from Northern Luzon. Made of Narra and other varieties of hardwood, they absorb the juices, odors, taste and oils of whatever material is processed.

Wooden mortars and pestles also attract insects, mold and mildew; they look disgustingly stained after a few months of use. Wood is too soft for well dried solid whole black peppercorns, and definitely no match for crab shells.

Metal reacts chemically to any food and alters the flavor of anything it touches.

BEST FROM SAN ESTEBAN - On a trip to Laoag, I once got off the bus at the town of San Esteban, Ilocos Sur, to purchase hand carved rough stone almires from roadside stalls dotting the highway. They made perfect, though heavy, Christmas gifts. Maybe I'll do it again this year.

For feedback and comments, email to:


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Indonesia's Jokowi to speak to attorney general about Philippines death row convict

    Indonesia President Joko Widodo will consult with the attorney general on legal issues surrounding the case of death row convict Mary Jane Veloso, the Philippines presidential spokesman said on Monday. The statement came after the Philippines President Benigno Aquino met Widodo at the ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur and appealed for "humanitarian consideration" in the case. Widodo was sympathetic and was consulting with the Indonesian attorney general on the legal issues, he said. …

  • Halt Indonesia drug executions until graft claims probed: Australia
    Halt Indonesia drug executions until graft claims probed: Australia

    Australia on Monday urged Indonesia to ensure all legal processes have been cleared of corruption before executing two of its nationals, as bribery allegations surfaced regarding their drug smuggling trial. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop spoke to her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi on Sunday evening while Prime Minister Tony Abbott has written to President Joko Widodo to again plead for the executions to be halted. "Bali Nine" drug traffickers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan could face …

  • Pagasa: Drought may worsen
    Pagasa: Drought may worsen

    The drought in 12 already dry areas in the country is expected to worsen as the summer season peaks next month, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) warned yesterday. In an advisory, PAGASA said the provinces of Albay, Bataan, Batangas, Biliran, Cavite, Cebu, Ilocos Norte, Leyte, Misamis Occidental, Pampanga, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur will continue to receive “way below” or “below normal” rainfall in May. PAGASA defines …

  • Maximum restraint for Phl troops in West Phl Sea
    Maximum restraint for Phl troops in West Phl Sea

    The military has advised its pilots conducting surveillance in the West Philippine Sea to exercise maximum restraint even if they are being bullied by Chinese troops. Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala said all actions of the pilots should be consistent with the declaration of conduct signed by claimant countries. Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said the Philippines should remain on moral high ground when it comes to the territorial dispute. A …

  • MMDA simulates rescue march after quake, tsunami
    MMDA simulates rescue march after quake, tsunami

    The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) yesterday led the annual rescue march from Quezon City to Manila, giving rescue volunteers a glimpse of possible scenarios if the metropolis is hit by a strong quake or is inundated by a tsunami. Cora Jimenez, MMDA general manager, said 700 volunteer rescuers walked from the Quezon City memorial circle to the Bonifacio monument in front of the Manila city hall to simulate a response-exercise to a magnitude 7.2 earthquake. Renato Solidum, …

  • Islamic State threatens Mindanao, Phl tells Asean
    Islamic State threatens Mindanao, Phl tells Asean

    Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario bared yesterday before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reports of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threat to the Philippines through the Black Flag Movement in Mindanao. Speaking before ASEAN foreign ministers, Del Rosario said the ISIS threat to Philippine security is real rather than imagined because of the Black Flag Movement’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. …

  • ‘Chinese reclamation affecting Phl’s energy security bid’
    ‘Chinese reclamation affecting Phl’s energy security bid’

    China’s occupation and buildup of its military structures in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea is causing the country’s top energy official to get the jitters as the encroachment is seen as a huge dent on the Philippines’ efforts to achieve energy security. “It is a concern but if we don’t bring it to the United Nations, where will we bring it? We cannot bang heads with them,” Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla told The STAR in an interview over the weekend. The US Energy …

  • Phl to Asean: China getting de facto control
    Phl to Asean: China getting de facto control

    The Philippines yesterday urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to unite and stop China’s massive reclamation in disputed waters as it will give China “de facto control” over the area and cause $100 million in marine wealth losses annually. At the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting here, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told his counterparts that the situation in West Philippine Sea had worsened just a year after the Philippines began to draw international …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options