Why It Works
- Salting the pork liberally and boiling in seasoned water adds extra flavor.
- Allowing the pork to air-dry in the refrigerator overnight after boiling results in extra crispiness.
- Cutting the pork into 2-inch slices creates the right balance between a crispy outside and a juicy interior.
As much as I love my mother-in-law's fried spare ribs, my heart will always belong to my one true love of Filipino food—lechon kawali, or boiled and deep-fried pork belly. The exterior of lechon kawali is salty and extra-crispy, while the interior is tender and moist with fat and juicy meat. It's a rich combination that pairs extremely well with the mild tartness of cane vinegar, which cuts through the fat just enough to make eating a whole plate of fried pork a dangerously simple task.
Despite the clear risk to my health, I've spent quite a bit of time perfecting the recipe. Prepare thyself.
Belly of the Beast
Part of the magic of lechon kawali is the bubbly, ultra-crisp skin, so the first step is to make sure you get skin-on belly. I also recommend getting boneless belly for ease of preparation, but if yours has some rib bones attached, they can be removed before or after boiling.
A Brothy Showdown
Once you have the belly, the next thing you'll need to do is boil it, which helps render out some of the fat before frying. Based on other recipes I've seen, there's a split between boiling the belly in plain salted water and water that has additional seasonings like garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, and soy sauce. I decided to do a side-by-side comparison to see how much of a difference that made.
I simmered the belly in the two different baths for a little over an hour, until I could pierce the skin with a paring knife and the meat was tender. I noticed right away that the pork simmered with seasonings had a more attractive light-brown appearance (at left, below), and once I fried them up, it was also the clear winner for flavor too.
The next step is to air-dry the boiled pork in the fridge overnight before frying, which helps ensure the skin will crisp and puff up when fried (I've tried the recipe without this air-drying stage and it's just not as good). I give the boiled pork a generous seasoning with salt, since the seasoned water isn't quite enough to season it thoroughly, then set it on a wire rack and put it in the refrigerator overnight.
To prep the belly for frying, I cut it into slices about two inches thick—any thinner and you'll over-crisp the pork, leaving very little juicy and tender interior; any thicker and you risk not fully heating the pork through by the time the outside is golden and crispy.
The result: a crisp and crunchy exterior, with tender, melting fat and meat right under the surface.
Just look at those little air bubbles in the skin.
By the end of testing, my wife and I had eaten more lechon kawali than any human should in just a few days.
But that's the power of lechon kawali: Despite being a pure, unadulterated dose of pork, you just don't tire of it. I take solace in the fact that if I'm going to eat such a large amount of meat and fat, I'm at least doing it in one of the most delicious ways possible.
February 05, 2015
2 pounds (900g) boneless skin-on pork belly, cut in half
8 medium cloves garlic, smashed
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 cup (120ml) soy sauce
Canola or peanut oil, for frying
Rice or cane vinegar, preferably spicy, or Lechon sauce (such as Mang Tomas), for dipping
In a large pot, place pork belly, skin side down, and add enough water to completely submerge meat. Add garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower heat and reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until pork skin can be pierced with a knife with no resistance, about 1 hour. Transfer pork to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and season liberally with salt all over. Refrigerate pork until skin has completely dried, 6 hours or overnight.
Remove pork from refrigerator and cut into 2-inch slices.
Fill a wok or Dutch oven with at least 4 inches oil and heat to 375°F (190°C) over high heat. Working in batches, fry pork until deeply browned and skin has bubbled and crisped, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer pork to a paper towel-lined plate and season with salt to taste. Cut pork slices into 1-inch pieces. Serve immediately with vinegar or Lechon sauce for dipping.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 29g||38%|
|Saturated Fat 10g||49%|
|Total Carbohydrate 0g||0%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 0g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||1%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|