Take a slab of liempo (pork belly). Simmer it in heavily salted water until tender. Cool. Deep fry until the rind is puffed and crisp, crackling-style. Cool the pork to allow the juices to settle. Chop into bite-size pieces. Serve with a dipping sauce made with a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, chopped onion, crushed garlic and ginger, and chilies. That, in a nutshell, is lechon kawali.
Of course, the basic way of preparing lechon kawali has variations. In my grandparents’ time, the simmered liempo was hung to dry under the sun for a day. My aunts on my mother’s side of the family swore that the secret was in freezing the cooked pork after drying and dropping it in boiling oil while still frozen. That way, the outside would brown and turn crisp while the innermost part of the meat would barely get heated through ensuring minimal loss of moisture. The temperature of the oil is a point of contention as well. Some even say that boiling the pork prior to frying is not necessary at all.
But that’s just fried pork! How can there be so much debate about frying pork? Well, see, it isn’t just fried pork. It’s perfectly fried pork — crisp outside, tender and moist inside with fat that literally melts in the mouth. And getting the perfect texture is an art. Since every cook is an artist, each has his own techniques for cooking the perfect lechon kawali. It is a matter of pride.
For Filipinos, lechon kawali is a comfort food and a guilty pleasure. In this era of diaspora, when overseas Filipino workers come home for a vacation, especially those from the Middle East where pork is taboo, it isn’t unusual to find them soon after their arrival dining in places where good lechon kawali is served.
Right. With dishes like lechon kawali, it’s no wonder that Filipino cuisine has earned a global reputation for being too fatty and too unhealthy!
The thing is, there are alternative ways to achieve the perfect lechon kawali texture and mouth-feel without deep frying. One is roasting. When cooking a large slab of pork belly, I roast my lechon kawali in the oven (a turbo broiler works very well too) at a very, very high temperature (see how). Instead of the meat soaking up oil, the fat drips off as the meat browns and the rind puffs. There’s no danger of getting injured with the spatter of hot oil and the process is less messy too. When I’m making lechon kawali in small amounts, I shallow fry.
And when I serve lechon kawali, I don’t necessarily serve it as an all-meat dish. Rather, I combine the lechon kawali with other ingredients to create more balanced dishes, an ever-growing list of which you will find
on the right side of this page below this post.
This is my lechon kawali corner.
~ About Connie Veneracion 10.26.2013