Crispy pork a Filipino comfort food
Lechon, technically, is a whole roast pig. Not practical for dinner at home, so when the word comes up, it's generally referring to a much smaller-scale preparation.
Think of it like kalua pig -- if you've got full-on luau capability, you dig a pit, start a fire, heat rocks and bury a whole pig overnight. As a practical matter, though, most kalua is made in the oven -- or occasionally the slow-cooker -- beginning with a 5-pound chunk of pork butt, a dose of liquid smoke and a wrapping of ti leaves.
I've come across two approaches to lechon, a Filipino standard, in response to a request from Carmen Kiyabu.
One is to take a chunk of pork -- 3 pounds of shoulder meat -- rub it with salt and lots of pepper, then roast it in the oven at 350 degrees for about two hours, until brown and crisp all over. You don't really need my help with that.
The second method yields those familiar crisp strips of pork belly you can order at a Filipino deli. It involves a process of boiling, air-drying and deep-frying. The first step renders a lot of the fat and infuses the meat with the flavors of garlic and pepper from the cooking water. The frying adds some fat back, but mainly serves to crisp the skin.
Whether you roast or fry, lechon is usually served with a dipping sauce. Home preparations can be a simple matter of soy sauce, vinegar and garlic, with some chili peppers for heat. The traditional sauce, though, is made with chicken livers broiled and strained, then mixed with a sweet-sour mixture of vinegar and sugar.
These recipes are adapted from the cookbooks of Philippine cooking authority Reynaldo Alejandro. He sticks to a basic salt-pepper-garlic flavoring, but many other recipes for lechon also add bay leaves. The amount of garlic also varies widely, so if you're a garlic fiend, go ahead and pile it on.
1-1/2 to 2 pounds pork belly
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon peppercorns or 1/2 tablespoon ground pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Slice pork into 1-inch pieces. Bring pot of water to boil and add pork with seasonings. Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour.
Remove meat, drain and allow to air-dry.
Heat oil and deep-fry pork until crisp and skin blisters.
Serve with sauce (below). Serves 4.
Nutritional information unavailable.
Lechon Liver Sauce
4 ounces chicken livers
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1-1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup minced onion
Pinch salt and pepper
1-1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup water
Broil livers until half-cooked. Press through a mesh strainer. Combine strained liver with remaining ingredients. Simmer over medium heat 20 minutes. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per 2-tablespoon serving: 70 calories, 1.5 g total fat, no saturated fat, 80 g cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 9 g carbohydrate, no fiber, 3 g sugar, 5 g protein.
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