I fried the pork belly until it came up to temperature. I was anxiously hungry and it seemed crackingly crispy enough. It smelled good. It looked good. It tasted good. But only hitting the tongue. I chomped down and chewed, and chewed and chewed. And then, chewed. This is a lot tougher than I remember.
Yes, it definitely was because I skipped a crucial step to make lechon kawali a desirable experience. With all that fat, you would think that the slab pork belly would already be tender enough. Unfortunately, not so much.
What I learned soon enough was that the meat underneath the layer of fat contains a lot of connective tissue. In short, it’s tough meat and needs to be slow cooked at low temperatures to be broken down and tenderized.
So the step I deemed unnecessary when I looked up the recipe years ago turned out to be very necessary – simmer the pork belly until tender.
Now, some people will simply use water. Others will use heavily salted water, much like how pasta water is seasoned. I soon found that many also add soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Sound familiar? Light bulb.
All the other recipes I found added adobo ingredients to their simmering water, but in small quantities. Yes, it’s a good idea to flavor the pork belly water, just as it’s always a good idea to season your pasta water. But at such diluted quantities, not as much flavor is coming though in the resulting lechon kawali. So why not just subtract the water altogether and make it a full blown adobo before the fry? Yup, why not indeed.
Another important step too. It’s is that the pork belly needs to go in the fridge, uncovered, preferably on a wire rack, for several hours (overnight if possible). This dries out the surface of the meet, giving you a crisper fry, and less cursing in the kitchen from splattering oil.
How did it turn out with the few adjustments? Try them yourself and let me know. I’ll get back to after I’m done eating me batch of lechon.
(P.s. The beauty of it all is that the braising liquid can double as dipping sauce too)
- 1 Slab of pork belly (2-3 lbs), skin on
- 1 Cup soy sauce
- 1 Cup Vinegar
- 1 Head of Garlic
- 4 Bay Leaves
- 1/2 Tablespoon Black Peppercorns
- Slice the pork belly slab into 1-inch slices.
- Smash and peel the garlic cloves.
- Combine all the ingredients into a heavy bottomed pot.
- Bring the pot to a boil on the stove over high heat.
- Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, and let simmer for 2 hours, or until the meat can be sliced easily with a butter knife.
- Remove the meat while it’s tender but still firm. We’re looking for tender meat that’ll hold its shape for the fry, not shredded pork.
- Set the sliced of belly on a wire cooling rack in the fridge and let rest uncovered for 12-18 hours. Reserve the braising liquid.
- When it’s frying time, fill a cast iron skillet or wok with enough oil to deep fry the pork belly pieces.
- Turn in the heat to medium high. Wait until the oil is up to temperature. (If you have a thermometer, aim for 375-390 degrees F. If you don’t have a thermometer, thrown in a piece of bread. If it sizzles and bubbles, you’re good to go.)
- Slice the pork belly slices into 1-inch cubes. (Alternatively you can save this step until after the fry, but I like to have as much crunchy exterior as I can get.)
- Deep fry the pieces of pork belly until bubbly and crisp all over.
- Rest the pork belly in the cooling rack to drain excess oil.
- Meanwhile, place the adobo braising liquid in a sauce pot and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. This will be your dip.