Thursday, September 10, 2009


What is it about old familial favourites that make them so daunting to me that I shuffle my feet in eternal hesitation to even hazard an attempt? I’m fine and dandy with things I’ve never made before, like soufflĂ© and opera cake. I dive head first into dishes from other shores, like Thai green curry and Arni Youvetsi. But when it comes to familiar, well-loved dishes with long histories, I cower like a mouse facing a lion. I supposed you could say that when it comes to trying new things I am all daredevil and bluster, but when much is at stake (like wreaking havoc on an old family dish) I get cold feet.

Well no more! I’ve conquered my fear of making adobo (I now love making it – as only someone who has started making it late in life can). We’ve successfully managed to start down the tricky road of paella. And now it was time to revisit callos (Callos a la Madrilena...but just callos from here on in to keep things simple).

I made callos for the first time 3 years ago when I got married. No, not to make it for my spanking new husband, but for K’s talented then-boyfriend, now-husband J. He designed our fabulous save-the-dates and callos was his preferred mode of payment. So I promptly set about harvesting culinary information from my grand-aunt and my mum-in-law (two experts in our family) and cobbled together a recipe.

Now if there is anything I can say about our old family recipes it is this: there is no recipe. And back then, I was not as adept as I am now at recognizing the subtleties and nuances of these age-old, hand-me-down methods, or knowing how to extract the correct information from beneath memory and reminiscing, or asking the right questions to translate a technique from past to present. In short, although J’s invite design was indeed fabulous, my callos were not. They came out much too watery no matter what I did. I spent most of the night over a huge pot of what looked like a Spanish-style stew that simply refused to make the leap to a proper callos. J and K did say the flavour was good...but it hadn’t made the cut in my book. I never made callos again.

Until now.

Like Thomas Keller riding back into Manhattan on a golden chariot made of French Laundry to build a palace called Per Se, victory was finally mine.

As with the paella, I have no recipe yet. Perhaps there never will be. A basic framework, yes. An exact recipe, probably not. Dishes like these are meant to be tucked in here and taken out there and tweaked to your own brand of deliciousness.

Here’s what I did: I divided the work into two days. This is a dish that needs a lot of patience and love so I broke down the steps so I wouldn’t get too tired and ornery. On day one I prepared the meat and the stock – the backbone of the callos. Because of my first attempt’s lack luster performance, I decided to stick with a small batch for now. I used roughly 400 grams each ox tail, ox feet, and tripe. I wanted a good mix of gelatin-rich joints, a little meat, and of course the tripe (I love tripe). I bought the tripe already clean, as you can find in most supermarkets if you search and ask questions. This allowed me to nix the step of multiple boiling and tossing of liquid (which I did the last time...which caused me to lose all my gelatin from the other meats...which caused the watery callos). That being said, go ahead and brush your tripe with salt and rinse under running water if you feel it isn’t clean enough. Feel free to experiment with other callos-friendly meats as well (I know I certainly will in the future!) like pig’s feet and face. Cover the meats in water to about 1-2 inches above them, bring to a boil and skim off the scum. Try to get as much of the scum off as you can. Once all the scum has been removed add a piece of ham bone (if you can get jamon Serrano bone use it!), some halved red and white onions, lots of whole black peppercorns, and a couple of bay leaves. Simmer until all the meats are soft. This took me about 6 hours. Be patient! It takes time to coax the meats into tender submission, as it does to render all the gelatin from their bones and reduce the stock to a sticky, glistening mess. Don’t rush this part I implore you. Do this on a day when you have to stay home and do a lot of work/chores. Just check on your pot every once in a while --- add more liquid if the water level gets too low and fish out meats that have already gotten tender before the rest. You want a stock that is reduced, glossy, and a bit sticky. When you are almost there, taste and adjust the seasoning – do this at the very end as you may not need any additional salt. Once done, I took the meats out, deboned them, and cut them into chunks. Make sure you get all the bits! Strain the stock (I didn't have much left after all that reduction - but that's ok...if it's good and rich you won't need copious amounts) but don’t lose any of the gelatin. Once cool, I stored the stock and meats (separately) in the fridge. When chilled, my stock turns into a jiggling solid mass – one piece of solid gold flavour and deliverer of unctuousness. I have yet to explore freezing options but will do so soon!

On day two, you can now breathe a sigh of relief as you get ready to make your callos knowing that the long, arduous part is over. I heated some olive oil in a pot and sautĂ©ed lots of chopped onion and garlic, and a bay leaf. Once the onions were soft I added some canned roasted red pepper sliced into strips (you can roast and peel your own as well) along with a couple of dollops of carne de pimiento choricero (bottled pulp of a type of red Spanish pepper). I then added some chorizo bilbao (or any Spanish chorizo meant for cooking – use something fresh but strong) and some chopped bacon slab. Once they rendered their oils I deglazed the pot with some red wine and let the alcohol cook off. Add some pimenton de la vera and, if you like and additional spice kick, some cayenne or chili (I do and I did). After giving this a few stirs I added a 400 gram can of chopped tomatoes, juice and all. I cooked this until pulpy (evaporating much of the liquid). At this point you can remove some of the oil if it looks excessive to you. I then tossed in the reserved meats, stock, some garbanzos (about half a 400 gram can, drained), and some green olives (unpitted) and cooked it until it all came together in a bubbling, sticky pot of goodness (which doesn’t take too long – watch your pot!)!

C loved this version – I know because of the many high fives that came my way with dinner, plus he had it until the last drop was gone! He declared that it must be logged down into our own tome of family recipes (which now consists of a furry purple notebook unbeknownst to him). So in it went!

I feel (as I do with fabada) that it is essential to make a rich and full-bodied stock to serve as the flavorful foundation on which your callos will stand (and also to get it as sticky as C likes it to be). Actually, looking back, I think I ended up with something more akin to a demi-glace than a stock...either way, it was phenomenal and I believe a big part of the success of this version. That, and using good chorizo (get the best tasting Spanish cooking chorizo you can find -- something fresh ideally, not from a can, with a nice strong flavor) and pimenton de la vera (look for the denominacion de origen please!). This will no doubt be treated to much variation as time goes by, but I think this basic method works well for us :)

***Our callos was an amalgamation of recipes and methods from our two families, patched together to form something that both C and I loved. I also took inspiration and technique from another wonderful cook’s informative callos post.


MeetaK said...

it's daunting becasue we have respect for our mums/grandmums who made them and somehow it always tasted better. we do not want to spoil that memory and respect - at least that is my explanation. love this it looks satisfying and tempting!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A nice post! That dish looks mighty scrumptious!



Anh said...

I really love how this dish looks!! Your way of writing the recipe is so cute as well :)

corrine said...

Wow! That is one delicious looking callos and I can almost taste its goodness by your recipe. I am going to make one this weekend using your recipe...a little daunting though. Hope I can make it as good as yours!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Meeta! You are absolutely right! I do believe that as well :) I would rather disappoint a stern French pastry chef than my mum!

Thanks Rosa :)

Hi Anh! Thank you :) It’s really more of general guidelines than a recipe...still a work in progress!

Hi Corrine! Hope you like it – this is just a general guideline so please adjust as you see fit :) If you have questions just email me or leave a comment here!

Roddy said...

Love this post. Especially the insight about family recipes. I would agree with MeetaK - it's respect as well as the anticipation of not tasting as good as Mom's recipe.

What if it's better, though? How would you deal with that?...would you even admit it?

Zoe said...

This is the first time I'm hearing of Callos. Thanks for sharing you breakdown of the recipe!

Socky said...

This is inspiring, Joey. I've been wanting to cook callos, but am still intimidated. Tripe! Oxtail! I've never handled any of those - they always came to me in their already-cooked splendor. Callos, Lengua... they'll always be the culinary Big Black Hole to me.

Anne said...

I haven't cooked callos before but hopefully when you post your recipe I would gladly like to try it. Love anything with tomato sauce.

Watergirl said...

My favorite part of callos is the sauce, meaty, tomatoey, good on bread, rice, even noodles.
Like Socky though, I'm not sure I am ready to cook with tripe, so I'm glad there is you :)

Shalimar said...

i love the story behind this post Joey. I just began how to cook tripes and oxtail too and discovered patience and love are two foremost ingredients.

Divina Pe said...

Dad used to make this dish for us but I never really like tripe. Until now I'm still not a fan of tripe. Maybe this recipe of yours will make me change my palate. Thanks for this inspirational post.

Paz said...

Looks really good! Congrats on making it.


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karen said...

This is my first time to visit your blogsite. Enjoyed your log of your callos. It looked very delicious as well. I also liked your entry on the apple cake and the way you related it to friendship. I thoroughly agree. Thanks for the recipes.

Lee said...

Wow Joey!

this is an amazing post.. all the gelatinous goodness! Callos and conversation do not mix well since the lips are really sealed shut with the gluey goodness.

Marketman said...

I could really use some callos at the moment... been on a recent diet of carbs, carbs and more carbs! Your version looks spectacular!

Midge said...

I read your post and felt excited: it's September now and the Holiday Season looms near! Callos is one of the staples of my family's Yuletide table and, seeing yours, I can almost taste the gooey richness and the savory tang of the dish.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Roddy! I agree...I think since the recipes come from persons we respect and hold dear, we are more careful with them (careful as well that we don’t mess them up!). If it’s better though, then it’ll be our secret ;) Heehee!

Hi Zoe! It’s a dish that is Spanish in origin and is a big favourite here in the Philippines. Sometimes I wonder if Filipinos love callos more than the Spanish do!

Hi Socky! Glad you liked the post Socky! Since it is easier now to get cleaned tripe it is much easier to prepare this dish :) Ox tail is even easier (C has made sinigang with it already!). I love these odd bits of meat. I’d probably make a lousy steak (which is why C cooks the steak over here!).

Hi Anne! This is still very much a work in progress and the instructions are quite please amend as you see fit! :) If you have questions just email me :)

Hi M! I love callos with a thick sauce, as does are so right, good with so many forms of carbs! Hihihi ;) I love tripe...thinking what next to make with it. In truth, what was in the pot at the end of day one, I could have already eaten with some steaming hot rice!

Hi Sha! Glad you enjoyed the post :) Patience and love are very important ingredients in dishes requiring slow-cooking I think...I find that slow-cooked dishes which I have coaxed and cooed over often turn out the best :)

Hi Divina! Well, although I really love tripe, I have to admit it may not be to everyone’s taste :)

Hi Paz! Thanks!

Hi Sketching Backpacker...will check it out :)

Hi Karen! Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment! Glad you like the two posts :) Hope to see you around here again soon!

Hi Lee! Hahaha! I know the feeling :)

Hi MM! Thanks! And thanks for your very informative post on the topic as well! A carbs diet sounds good to me, heehee ;)

Hi Midge! I know what you mean...this dish reminds me of special occasions too :) Yikes! Must get moving on my Christmas shopping!

redmenace said...

Oh my. Not sure I can take this one on! Nice job, however. Fantastic!

anonymous paul said... misunderstood by many....but i love it. your callos looks killer. talk about slow food.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Redmenace! Thank you :) Despite the lengthy procedure I actually enjoyed it!

Hi Anonymous Paul! True, under-appreciated! It just needs some tlc to shine :)

iFoodTrip said...

Very good post. I've been looking for a recipe like this forever. I tried making callos before using canned tomatoes but I kept on draining the stock used in cooking the tripe because off fear of the dirt. I also ended up with a watery callos.

I will try this recipe but I will add some gelatinous stock made from bone marrow and knee cap bones. I agree that you should use good quality chorizo. I strongly recommend the chorizo at Alba's. It's the best.

SteamyKitchen said...

Those "patient" dishes are always the best! I've only had callos once before and I loved it.

pityenlacocina said...

its worth the effort, your callos looks so auntenthic, i just need a piece of crusty brad to dunk in the sauce, wonderful!



ChichaJo said...

Hi iFoodTrip! Thank you! Just make sure you start with clean tripe...if you are not sure about the cleanliness of your meats you can clean you can throw away the first water, once it boils, before softening the meat. And make sure you skim off the scum! Using marrow and knee cap bones should work too! I do buy the chorizo at Alba’s (and Terry’s as well)...I like it because they make it themselves and it’s fresher than the hard greasy logs you find in cans!

Hi Jaden! True, true! I love this dish :)

Hi Pity! Thanks! :)

Gina said...

I TOTALLY know how you feel when making old favorites...especially family recipes. No matter what I do, I can never make chimmi churri like my mom...or lasagna for that matter. I think food tastes like personalities sometimes.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Gina! Food tasting like personalities...I like that and I definitely agree :)

Roddy said...

Amid all the stress and storms. I turned to my one surefire way of relieving

Thanks to you, I am no longer a callos virgin. I decided to take the plunge after reading your post and found some excellent-looking NZ tripe and oxtail.

3 days - day 1 to soften the meat, as you suggested, day 2 to cook and coax everything together and day 3 for an overnight ref-chill to meld all the flavors together.

I had dough ready this morning after an overnight delayed fermentation and fired up a few baguettes just in time for lunch.

The result?...excellent!! The reactions?..enough to momentarily divert comversation from the recent storm.

The cayenne pepper was new and, in my mind, perfect when I realize we had our callos with a dash of tabasco growing up.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Roddy! Glad you and your kin enjoyed the callos :) And with freshly baked homemade wonderful! My hubby would also have a dash of tabasco in his while growing up -- perhaps that's why I made the addition as any case, he did not add any tabasco to this one! ;)

WizzyTheStick said...

I love this post. You said it exactly about being afraid to cook traditional foods. It's the same with me. Foreign dishes carry less expectations. Everyone has a memory of a traditional dish - of how their mother or grandmother made it and if it falls even a tiny bit short - there is such disappointment.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Wizzy! Thank you! Exactly! But it’s good to make our own mark too so we have our own versions to pass on :)

Anonymous said...

i'm glad that i discovered your blog as i am looking for a callos recipe after trying the callos pies my sister bought frm tna rains. I'm sure your recipe will also be yummy!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Anon! I have heard of those callos pies and have been wanting to try them! Must buy some soon :)

Cathy Alvarez said...

Hi Joey, i've been a fan for sometime but never had the chance to post a comment until now. I can really relate to this post. My family has a version of fabada that i have never dared to cook until I was 25 years old, and yes, there is no recipe and we can only do our best to remember how it's done. Until now I still think I haven't really got it right. I actually tried the recipe you did for Yummy and I've found it to be of great help when I'm craving this particular comfort food. Thank you and best wishes on the baby :)

ChichaJo said...

Hi Cathy! Thanks for leaving a comment! Glad you enjoy the blog :) And glad the fabada recipe in Yummy worked for you! It took me a while to finally attempt fabada too...a dish that my family also makes. I finally did and now have my own recipe :) The one in Yummy is a quick and easy one for when you don't have much time...if you want my original fabada recipe just email me! :)

Cementtruck said...

I am savoring the last of my callos leftovers as I write this comment. I sneaked a tupperware's worth home from a recent family get together, and treat it like gold. I don't know how to make Callos and was searching for a recipe online as my mother does the "a pinch of this, a dash of that" templada. I totally understand the cold feet for attempting a time tested recipe. Cheers on your attempt, and success.

Garcia said...

My favorite part of callos is the sauce, meaty, tomatoey, good on bread, rice, even noodles. Like Socky though, I'm not sure I am ready to cook with tripe, so I'm glad there is you :)