I am torn.  I cannot quite figure out why I fancy this piece of grilled chicken so much.  Mind you, it isn’t just any grilled chicken.  It is chicken inasal [ih-nah-sal], Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan’s version of the iconic Ilonggo dish from the islands of the Visayas. Inasal is skewered chicken — breast with wing or leg with thigh — grilled over hot coals, marinated and basted with achuete oil, and served with chili-spiked vinegar.

Is it its color?  The appetizing orange hue of its beautifully blistered skin.  The nearly ruddy glow that only a lavish basting of fragrant achuete oil can give.

Or its taste? The lush layers of citrus, vinegar, lemongrass, garlic, and ginger that meld in my mouth with every voracious bite of the bird’s moist meat.

Or the memories of college life back home?  Wild jeepney rides along the tree-lined oval that circled the campus.  Solitary strolls and afternoon naps at the sunken garden.  Lunches with friends at the infamous Shopping Center, which everyone fondly called S.C. for short.
I remember the hole-in-the-wall next to the bookstore and their fresh-off-the-grill chicken inasal served with rice on banana-leaf-lined plastic plates.  And, of course, how can I forget the bounty of street food waiting outside. Green mango, the kind that makes you pucker in utter delight, sliced, skewered, and dipped in salty shrimp paste. Fishballs swimming in hot oil. Chicken feet grilling over hot coals. Saba bananas rolled in lumpia wrapper, covered with sugar, and deep fried to a golden crisp. A whole lot of good eats for not a whole lot of money.

Or the memories of Rowena, my very good friend from Bacolod? I remember the first time I met her when Jasmine, another very dear friend, introduced us at the steps by the Engineering lobby. She was timid but very sweet and her smile was infectious. Rowena takes her inasal seriously. Very seriously. You definitely have to visit my hometown in Bacolod someday if you want to taste the best inasal — the real inasal! Her voice was emphatic and her case convincing. She told me about the nuances in flavor and ingredients, which differed from town to town and from household to household. Inasal in Manila or anywhere else is nothing compared to the grilled chicken back home. I was sold.

If only I could jump on a plane and fly to Bacolod, it would be great to see Rowena again and catch up. So much has happened since the last time we saw each other. It was graduation, on a humid April day many years ago. So much has changed. I left for California while she returned to Bacolod. But, for now, I would have to settle for memories of our simple lives back then and a plate of my own chicken inasal to remember those sweet memories by.



Chicken Inasal Recipe
Recipe by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan from Memories of Philippine Kitchens, serves six to eight

1/4 cup achuete oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and finely chopped
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed calamansi or lime juice
2 tablespoons red wine, cane, or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 3-1/2 pound chicken, cut into pieces

In a large nonreactive bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken pieces, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Chicken inasal is best grilled but can also be roasted in the oven. When roasting, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Transfer the chicken to a foil-lined baking sheet, reserving the marinade. Roast the chicken, basting occasionally with the reserved marinade, until the chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes.

Chicken Inasal

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  • http://www.confessionsofachocoholic.com/ Bianca Garcia

    Awww so you went to UP Diliman too? I miss my UP days as well. Would you believe I only took the ikot once? (and only because my friends forced me, just to experience it haha). I was a spoiled (B.A.) brat. Everytime I go home though, I make sure to come back to UP – for a run along the oval, for a meal at Chocolate Kiss, barbecue at the Beach House, and banana que from the street vendors :)

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    So you are one of those spoiled BA brats! :-) Ah! The Beach House.  I remember it so well. When was the last time you visited home?  I was there February last year and ran along the oval once more to relive the memories.  The oval’s one way now, one lane is devoted to runners and joggers, the other lans is for jeepneys and cars.  But everything else pretty much is the same.

  • http://twitter.com/thecheapmonk Alvin

    I’ve never had Chicken Inasal before.  Looks like it’s time to take out the gas grill, and start cooking.

    By the way, I love how you feature an item on one post, then use it as an ingredient for the next.  Case in point, achuete oil from last week is the baste for today’s Chicken Inasal.  I remember the red food colouring from beets,  home-made condensed milk, & coco jam to name a few, that were eventually used to cook up other delightful goodies.  Quite crafty. 

  • http://www.obviouslyomnivore.com Xai Losito

    oh goodness, how i miss inasal from bacolod. i lived in bacolod for three years and the inasal from around the corner from my house is the bomb. oh the memories… oh and drooling over the photos in this post is not helping ease the nostalgia at all ;) also, i never knew that they used achuete oil for it, you learn something new everyday.

  • Adora’s Box

    Hey Jun, I think we went to the same school! Is the shopping center you talk about  DiliMall? Is the wild jeepney ride Ikot jeep? I was probably there was several decades before you. There was no inasal then but there was pork chop inihaw a the coop, just 5 pesos with a serving of rice and sukang paombong dip. I’ve actually never had inasal (please don’t laugh). It has very interesting flavours. Unfortunately there’s no achuete oil here in London. Will try it without the colouring.

  • http://pickyin.blogspot.com Chang Pick Yin

    I’ve never come across coconut vinegar before. This is a primarily Filipino ingredient? The chicken looks great though…

  • http://twitter.com/StephRussell26 Stephanie Russell

    I love it because of the color and the dark meat and because it just looks so amazingly good! I can imagine myself sinking my teeth into a drumstick, orange sauce smearing on my cheek but what the hell, it’s good! :-) Awesome, Jun. 

  • Cucumber Sprouts

    Your photos are incredible!!! I LIKED your blog on facebook!!! I stumbled upon it because I was looking for a grilled chicken dish to serve with my new Nicoise salad. I think this recipe will go really well with it. I too love photography and am learning how to take pretty food pics. Check out pictures of the Nicoise salad on my blog  http://cuceesprouts.com/2011/05/nicoise-salad/

  • Authenticsuburbangourmet

    Jun – this looks super delish!  I bet the combination of the auchete oil and the lemongrass are amazing.  Stunning photos as usual!  Enjoy the long holiday weekend. :)

  • http://iamafeeder.net Jackie

    Chicken is perhaps my favourite meat. These not only look beautiful but delicious too and is there anything better than food that evokes memories of home? I think not.

    Jax x

  • http://www.bigboldbeautifulfood.blogspot.com Ninetteenrique

    This popped up on the foodgawker facebook page, and I had to come.  So beautiful! Have you joined Kulinarya yet?  It’s a group of Filipino bloggers who do a monthly challenge.  You can find us on Facebook.

  • http://www.crapieat.com CrapIEat

    I absolutely love grilled chicken and this sounds mindblowingly good. Your description of the chicken made my mouth water. Can’t wait to try this!

  • http://psychosomaticaddictinsane.wordpress.com Iyassantos

    i love this with molo soup!

  • Ray G

    Chicken Inasal is a dish where I heard so many good things about but just haven’t gotten a chance to cook nor eat.  Let me tell you Jun, your Chicken Inasal looks so delicious and what a beautiful shot!  Thank you for sharing the recipe. 

  • OysterCulture

    Holy Cow!  I can figure out why you crave it, it is just amazingly delicious.  I love that cookbook and you’ve reminded me to add that back into rotation.  It is just darn good.

  • http://saberkite.com saberkite

    I wonder if that inasal stand is still there? Been hanging out in UPD for the past few weeks, but I actually studied in its highland campus. :) Last week my friends and I went on a picnic there. It’s always a great place to keep coming back to.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=636526770 Julius de la Cruz

    Bacolod Inasal is I think one of the best ways to introduce Pinoy cuisine to Non-Pinoys. It’s not fear-factor food. It’s a great social food. and It emphasizes the Asianness of Philippine cuisine especially with the lemongrass and the ginger tastes.

  • Giuia

    Made this dish this past weekend and got incredibly rave reviews!  My non-filipino friends could not get enough of it!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Julius, for writing.  Chicken inasal is one of those dishes I wish more non-Filipinos know more of.  Love the layers of flavor and the bright, beautiful color.

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Yay! I’m so glad that everyone loved your inasal.  Perfect for summer grilling.  Thank you, Giuia, for writing back.

  • http://www.facebook.com/julianlouie.umali Julian Louie Umali

    thanks for the post, , ,
    now i know how to make chicken inasal

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  • Alex

    Hi there! Thank you so much for your wonderful blog! My grandfather was from the Philippines and was an amazing cook… Since I made a trip to the Philippines to meet my relatives there, I’ve been trying to learn to cook all the wonderful foods! My mom took down a lot of his recipes but not all of them. and then I found your wonderful blog! I’ve tried a bunch of the recipes on your blog and they are always sooo good and taste like home. so thank you for helping me and my family rediscover how to cook Pilipino food! I love chicken inasal and want to try cooking it, but have never actually grilled chicken before! Was wondering if you have any tips (timing, direct heat vs indirect heat, etc.) for chicken inasal over charcoal fire. Thanks so much!

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  • Keith Medina

    I want to know if you guys have any idea what kind of grilling equipment/machine that restaurants used to cook chicken inasal. Thanks.