It was from a vendor in Batangas, during a holiday trip to the Philippines as a teenager, that chef Tara Monsod first tried chicken inasal. “I remember specifically all these chicken legs cooking on these coals,” says Monsod, the executive chef of San Diego’s Animae. “Smoke everywhere and watching him baste it and hearing the sizzle sound always stuck with me.”
At Animae, the opulent wagyu steakhouse from chef Brian Malarkey, Monsod presents cooking that could be described as “Asian fusion,” or “modern Asian American,” depending on how loaded the former feels. Having grown up with a “commuter family” in the city of Palmdale, north of Los Angeles, Monsod cites all kinds of inspiration: One day, her family would be eating Filipino food in the Valley; the next, Mexican food in Boyle Heights. That upbringing is reflected at Animae, where Hunan lamb chops share space with duck kimchi fried rice and mantou with sour cream butter.
When it comes to Filipino dishes at the restaurant, Monsod sees one of her goals as expanding what makes it to menus. “There’s so much more to our cuisine than just lumpia and pancit,” says Monsod, pointing to two dishes that dominate the understanding of Filipino food in the United States. “Unless you have a [Filipino] friend that you grew up and went to family parties with, you’ve probably never tried [the peanut stew] kare kare or chicken inasal,” a dish with origins in Visayas, the central region of the Philippines. True to Animae’s bigger vision, Monsod’s version, as served at the restaurant, takes on new influences as well: The buttered sticky rice accompanying it is a nod to the sticky rice with crispy shallots she’s eaten in Thailand.
What Monsod wants to stand out in her inasal are the aromatics in the marinade: ginger and garlic, but especially lemongrass and calamansi, a citrus that’s often described as a cross between a mandarin orange and lime. (In the absence of fresh calamansi, you can use fresh lemon juice.) While calamansi, which is native to the Philippines, is now more readily available from San Diego’s specialty food purveyors, Monsod previously got hers from her uncle’s backyard or from cooks who had family trees, a testament to immigrant resourcefulness.
“Anywhere in San Diego, if you see a backyard with a calamansi tree in the back, that’s a sign that a Filipino family has lived there,” Monsod says. “It shows that it’s something that they needed that they couldn’t get here, and a lot of people brought it over and literally grew it from seed.” There’s a community aspect to that too, she notes: “The first thing you do as a Filipino, if you need calamansi in San Diego, is you think of what friends you have.”
With first- and second-generation Filipino chefs earning steady nationwide and global attention, it’s an exciting moment to be cooking Filipino food in the U.S. “I think it’s really our time to just keep pushing our food forward,” Monsod says. It makes sense that a younger generation of diners — many, like Monsod, raised in the U.S. — would be more open to new interpretations on Filipino food, but to Monsod, the best validation is when those younger diners take it a step further. “They’re the ones that actually bring the aunties and uncles into the restaurant after they dine here themselves,” she says. “That makes me feel good because that’s validation that I’m doing our food justice — enough where they want to share it with the older generation.”
Chicken Inasal Recipe
Serves 2 to 3
Note: This recipe entails a 24-hour prep time and includes optional steps for finishing on the grill.
For the inasal annatto oil:
1 cup grapeseed oil
½ tablespoon annatto seeds
1 stalk lemongrass, smashed and chopped
2 pieces of thumb-sized ginger
3 garlic cloves, smashed
For the chicken inasal and marinade:
3 pounds chicken leg quarters
3 stalks lemongrass, smashed
12 garlic cloves, smashed
1 large onion, diced
1½ cups peeled and sliced ginger
3 cups white vinegar
3 cups 7-Up
½ cup calamansi juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt, plus additional to taste
First, make the annatto oil:
Step 1: Heat the grapeseed oil in a small pot over medium-high heat until the oil is simmering.
Step 2: Take the pot off the heat and add the annatto seeds, lemongrass, ginger, and garlic. Set aside to cool completely, allowing the ingredients to steep. The oil will hold up to a week in the refrigerator.
Next, make the chicken:
Step 1: Take the chicken quarters and make 3 slits across the bottom flesh side of each leg. This will help the marinade penetrate the flesh for better flavor.
Step 2: Combine the lemongrass, garlic, onion, ginger, white vinegar, 7-Up, calamansi juice, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl. Stir well to incorporate all the ingredients.
Step 3: Meanwhile, arrange the chicken leg quarters in a large baking dish and pour over the inasal marinade. Alternatively, you can use Ziplock bags instead of a baking dish to ensure that the chicken pieces are fully covered. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight.
Step 4: Once the chicken legs are done marinating, remove them from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Place them on a sheet tray with a rack or on paper towels and let them air-dry without a cover in the refrigerator overnight. This will help crisp up the skin. (Alternatively, if you are short on time, air-dry the chicken pieces in front of a fan for about an hour or two. This will help ensure your inasal has crispy skin.)
Step 5: Once the skin has air-dried, season each leg with salt on all sides.
Step 6: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Bake the air-dried chicken leg quarters for about 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches about 150 to 155 degrees.
Step 7: Take the chicken out of the oven and set the oven to broil at 400 degrees. Baste the chicken pieces on both sides with the annatto oil.
Step 8: Broil the chicken in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes until the skin is crispy. Remember to baste the chicken with the oil every 3 to 5 minutes or so to add color and an extra layer of flavor. At this point, the chicken should be fully cooked with an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Step 9: Take the chicken out and let it rest for about 5 minutes before serving. Baste with more annatto oil and serve with rice, atchara (pickled papaya), and toyomansi (soy sauce mixed with calamansi juice).
Optional finishing steps for the grill:
Step 1: Prepare a charcoal grill for cooking.
Step 2: Place the baked chicken legs over the grate roughly 4 to 6 inches from the hot coals. Baste every 3 to 5 minutes for flavor and color. Grill the chicken pieces until the skin is slightly charred and crispy. The inasal is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Step 3: Let the chicken rest and baste with more annatto oil It.
Louiie Victa is a chef, recipe developer, food photographer, and stylist living in Las Vegas.
Recipe tested by Louiie Victa