The words lechon, crispy pata, and lechon kawali are always said with a measure of reverence and longing. Many have failed their dietary resolutions because of this unholy triumvirate of evil pork deliciousness. While each of these three have their own unique charm, lechon kawali is the easiest to whip up at home, so that’s what I’m focusing on.
By definition, lechon means roasted pig. Kawali means saucepan or wok. The dish doesn’t translate that easily though, and instead of roasting, the pork is actually fried in the wok. Semantics really, but when faced with a crisply fried chunk of pork, anyone will stop quibbling and instead request for a plateful of rice.
Start with a slab of liempo (pork belly). Opt for at least a kilo to make your efforts worthwhile. If you can, choose a relatively lean belly, one with thin layers of fat. Skin on, please. A decent lechon kawali needs that crackling layer of skin. You can slice the slab into half kilo slabs to make it cook quicker.
Dry rub your pork belly with salt. I use rock salt, roughly a tablespoon per slab. I rest it for a few minutes, then throw it into a pot with enough water to cover the meat. I throw in some crushed garlic, a few whole black peppercorns, and a bayleaf or two. Bring to boil, then simmer until tender.
Drain the pork slabs. Let it air dry. Strain the liquid you boiled the pork in and save as stock. Read a book while you wait. Preferably one with bacon in it. Or you can watch a TV show with people cooking with bacon. Perfect.
Heat a pot of oil to just before smoking. Ideally, it should be around 300-degrees Fahrenheit, but I confess to not using a thermometer. While waiting (there is a lot of waiting, yes), pierce the skin of the pork with a fork, repeatedly. This will create those wonderful crackly little bubbles. Fry the pork until almost golden. It should be a gentle fry/boil, not splattering too much. Drain then air dry. Again. Yes, more waiting.
Now you can opt to fry your pork slab again, one final blistering oil bath (aka 400-degrees Fahrenheit) before you feast. Or you can opt to store it in the fridge (for a couple of hours) or freezer (for a couple of days), to be refried when you feel like it. This is why I suggested going with at least a kilo. Because you can prepare lechon kawali until before the final frying. Isn’t it an awesome feeling, knowing you have lechon kawali stored somewhere, ready to be fried and ingested at a moment’s notice. It’s practically bagnet, only it’s not made in Ilocos.
At this point, you can slice your pork slab into thick slices, or even chunks. This is helpful because it allows the pork to heat through at the same pace as the outsides cook. A good idea, especially when your lechon kawali’s coming from the freezer and you’re too lazy to let it thaw. Fry it to golden brown then serve with bottled lechon sauce, or prepare your own sauce with vinegar, soy sauce, chopped onions, a little sugar, black pepper, salt, and a bit of water. The first one lets you pretend you’re eating lechon. The second one brainwashes you into eating a lot more because the vinegar and onions cut the fried food feel. Personally, I always go with the second one. That and extra helpings of rice.
Lechon Kawali v. 4 November 2014
- 1 kg pork belly / liempo
- rock salt
- black peppercorns
- bay leaf
- oil for deep frying
- Dry rub liempo with salt. Let stand for a few minutes.
- Place in a pot with enough water to cover. Add garlic, pepper and bayleaf.
- Bring to boil, then simmer until tender. Air dry.
- Pierce skin repeatedly with fork. Deep fry on medium heat until brown.
- Air dry. May be stored for future use at this point.
- Deep fry on high until crackling and crisp.