Why It Works
- Cooking the sisig in a cast iron pan approximates the traditional sizzling platter.
- The addition of mayonnaise lends an opulent creaminess.
- Braising the pig head parts ensures they're soft and yielding.
- Cutting the pork into small pieces speeds up the final stage of cooking.
Sisig, the Filipino street food of chopped pig parts and chicken livers tossed with a spicy and sour dressing, is said to have originated in Pampanga, a province centrally located on the island of Luzon in the northern Philippines, although the dish was very different from what’s commonly served today. The word sisig (pronounced see-sig) stems from sisigan, an old Tagalog word that means “to make sour,” and sisig was basically a simple salad made with green papaya or guava, salt, pepper, and garlic, tossed in a vinegar dressing.
Sisig got closer to its more meaty modern version during the American occupation, when Filipinos living near Clark Air Base in Pampanga could get pigs heads either for very cheap or for free, as US Air Force personnel apparently didn’t have any use for them. Enterprising Filipinos who saw treasure in the Americans’ trash boiled the heads, cut off the ears, jowls, and snout, and added the parts to sisig salad.
The version of sisig that is ubiquitous today, the one that’s regarded as a cure-all for ailments as varied as nausea and being hungover, and the one that the late Anthony Bourdain called his favorite Filipino street food, is said to be the creation of Lucia Cunanan, who is now lovingly referred to as Aling Lucing (the use of the title "Aling" is a sign of respect). At "Crossings," her food stall located by railroad tracks in Pampanga, she stayed true to the original dish but upped the ante by not just boiling but also grilling and frying the pig’s head parts, along with its brain and chicken livers, and served everything on a sizzling platter. Her dish became such a sensation that celebrities, politicians, and the elite flocked to her stall.
Sisig has since evolved into a pulutan, the catch-all term for foods that are best enjoyed with alcohol, which may explain why it’s considered a remedy for nausea and hangovers.
I didn’t get to try sisig until I was in college, since I wasn’t invited to the inuman, or drinking, sessions, where pulutan like sisig were commonly enjoyed. There were a couple reasons for this, both of which stemmed from the fact that I’m a woman. First, most inuman sessions are dominated by men, my titos (uncles) drinking and eating pulutan while my titas (aunts) were busy playing mahjong. Second, it was considered unladylike to participate in such debauchery.
There was also a geographical reason: Sisig is an iconic dish of central Luzon, as that’s where its most modern version was invented, and as an island girl who grew up in a southern province, sisig just wasn’t a part of my food vocabulary.
I attended university in Diliman (right on the outskirts of Manila), and me and my friends used to go to Mang Jimmy’s, a very special place that served unlimited white rice and cheap buckets of beer, perfect for long inuman sessions and feasting on their amazing sizzling sisig, which somewhat unexpectedly incorporated mayonnaise. I found the combination of flavors and textures—salt, tang, spice, and creaminess—incredibly satisfying, and as a result I loosely based this recipe on that version, although I’ve given you the option of using pork shoulder as a substitute for the more traditional cuts of ears, jowl, and snout, which may be harder to find.
Served as a standalone meal or as pulutan, I hope this version of the dish will demonstrate why sisig has earned its place on the list of most-popular Filipino dishes.
- 1/4 pound (115g) chicken livers (optional)
- 2 pounds (905g) skinless, boneless pork shoulder, or pig ears, snout and/or jowl (see note)
- 2 cups (475ml) plus 1 tablespoon (15ml) neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable oil, divided
- 10 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 medium red onion (about 4 ounces; 115g), finely diced
- 1/4 cup (60ml) soy sauce, preferably Filipino brands such as Silver Swan or Datu Puti
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) calamansi juice (see note)
- 2 bird’s eye chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced
- 4 large eggs (7 ounces; 200g)
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 30g) mayonnaise
- 1 scallion, ends trimmed and sliced thinly on a bias, for garnish
- Cooked white rice, for serving
- Calamansi halves, for serving (see note)
If using chicken livers, place in a countertop blender and process until smooth. Transfer puréed livers to a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
If using pork shoulder, blot dry with paper towels, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, then proceed to Step 3. If using pig ears, snout, and/or jowl, place pork in stockpot or Dutch oven, cover with water and boil until tender, between 60 to 90 minutes. Using tongs, transfer pig ears, snout, and/or jowl to a rimmed baking sheet and set aside until cool enough to handle. Blot dry with paper towels and cut into 1/2-inch pieces, then proceed to Step 3.
Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet lined with a double layer of paper towels. In a wok, heat 2 cups (475ml) oil over medium-high heat until it registers 375°F (190°C) on an instant-read thermometer. Working in 3 batches, carefully lower a third of the pork shoulder, pig ears, snout, and/or jowl into the oil and fry until lightly browned all over, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer pork to prepared rack. Return oil to 375°F (190°C) and repeat with remaining pork. Set aside.
In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, heat remaining 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add garlic and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and golden brown in color, about 3 minutes.
Add reserved fried pork, puréed chicken livers (if using), soy sauce, calamansi juice, and chiles, and mix until well combined.
Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Break eggs directly into pan, spacing them evenly around perimeter. Lower heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook, without stirring, until egg whites are opaque and yolks are runny but turning yellow on the edges, about 3 minutes.
Add mayonnaise and scallions and mix with pork and eggs until fully combined. Serve immediately with cooked white rice and calamansi halves.
Feel free to use any one of these cuts of pork alone or in a combination.
Calamansi is difficult to source fresh in the US, but occasionally Filipino groceries located in California or Florida will have them. You can also buy frozen calamansi juice from a well-stocked Asian or Filipino market; it has a better flavor than bottled options. If you’re not able to find calamansi, substitute by following a formula of one part freshly squeezed lemon juice to one-half part freshly squeezed lime juice to one-quarter part granulated sugar (by volume).
Make-ahead and Storage
Sisig can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Leftovers make a great addition to fried rice.