As a food blogger and natural glutton, I've often found myself invoking the name of God after my many many stints of pain-inducing overindulgence. For instance, the following phrases have passed through my lips on more than one occasion:
- "Please God, don't let me barf all over myself."
- "Please God, don't let me shit myself."
- "Please God, don't let me die."
- "Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em."
The first invocation above is usually mumbled and slurred after an extended period of alchohol-fueled carousing, or what I like to refer to as "Tuesday." The second in the list is almost always expressed through clenched teeth and with a cold sweat covering my brow--usually after eating something passed it's prime that I knew I shouldn't have eaten. And finally, the third invocation on the list is reserved for when my belly has been stuffed with terribly unhealthy, yet terribly delicious, pork products.
I've been asking the Big Guy to spare my life more and more these days as I've been clogging my arteries at an alarming rate via the Five Point Pork Exploding Heart Technique.
For my latest foray into pork gluttony, I present to you Deep-Fried Pork Belly: AKA Lechon Kawali/AKA Bagnet/AKA Chicharon.
In the name of the Skin, the Fat, and the Meat:
The Porky Trinity
Generally speaking, Lechon Kawali is a Filipino dish referring to twice-cooked pork belly: the belly is first boiled, then air dried, and then quickly deep-fried.
Bagnet is the Ilocano (Ilocos region of the northwest Philippines) version of Lechon Kawali where the belly is fried for a longer period of time. Some even say that bagnet is cooked thrice: boiled, air dried, then fried for a longer period of time, then quickly fried again (I'm serious).
And while the term "Chicharon" generally refers to only fried pork rinds, Ilocanos also refer to Bagnet as Chicharon and vice versa (I know this because my family is Ilocano). Confused yet? Of course you are. For the sake of this post, and because most Filipinos can identify deep-fried pork belly as Lechon Kawali, I will also refer to my deep-fried pork belly as Lechon Kawali.
Now, I've been meaning to make Lechon Kawali for quite some time. In fact, when I met Marketman of Market Manila last summer, he suggested that I try my hand at Lechon Kawali as it would be fairly easy to make. I even remember asking Marketman that night what kind of oil I should use to fry the pork belly, and without missing a beat he replied, "Well, ideally you should use lard." Whoa.
Considering I couldn't find enough pork lard to fill a vat in which to fry, I just used plain ol' canola oil (I had to keep something relatively healthy). But to make my Lechon Kawali, I did stick to Marketman's guide to deep-fried pork belly here and here.
To start, I cut a 2-pound slab of pork belly into three pieces and stuck them into a zip-top bag. I then added to the bag some salt (Ilocos sea salt), black peppercorns, bay leaves, and a few smashed garlic cloves. I rolled the pork pieces around in the bag to evenly coat them in the spices, then threw the bag in the refrigerator overnight. This step is basically a "quick cure" of the meat that ensures maximum flavor in the pork. The next day, there was a good amount of liquid in the bag that the salt drew out of the pork. Mmmmm, osmosis.
I then threw all the contents of the bag (the pork, spices, garlic, and even the accumulated liquid) into a large pot. I covered the pork with water, brought everything to a boil, then simmered everything for an hour. I fished out the pork pieces, let them cool slightly, and then patted them dry with paper towels. I also strained the liquid in the pot and discarded the spices and garlic, but I froze the leftover pork broth. Don't throw that broth out, it can be used later for a great pork sinigang!
After patting dry the boiled pork, I put the pork on a wire rack over a cookie sheet and placed it in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 24 hours. I use a rack because it increases air circulation around the pork. Refrigerating the pork also helps to dry and draw out as much moisture from the pork as possible. This drying step is very important for Lechon Kawali as it helps improve the final crispness and texture of the final dish, so don't skimp on the drying.
Chilled pork. Notice how smooth the skin is.
Once the pork has dried in the refrigerator for 24 hours, it's time to fry! Because I didn't want to have a giant pot of scalding oil on my own stove, I actually put my pork in a cooler and drove to my parent's house over the holidays because they have a deep fryer, and also because it was the holidays, but mostly because they have a deep fryer.
Of course, my mom made me fry outside on the patio. She even made sure I put some newspaper down because, well, because she's Filipino.
Mom's got a deep fryer? I want to go to there.
I heated the oil to 375 degrees F (that's as hot as my mom's fryer got), then plopped in the cold pork pieces. I think keeping the pork cold allows it to fry in the oil for a longer time, ultimately leading to crisper, puffier skin. I fried the pork belly for 45 minutes; I could have probably gone longer but the fam was getting hungry. Yes, 45 minutes is a long-ass time, but the long frying is due to the Ilocano in me.
And don't worry, because of the pork's initial cold core temperature, it ain't gonna burn anytime soon. And don't worry, the pork won't be (too) greasy either. As long as the pork is sizzling in the hot oil, that means that moisture within the pork is turning into steam and pushing outward--keeping oil from seeping inward. I'm blinding you with science!
After 45 minutes in the hot oil, the pork belly becomes golden brown with beautifully blistered skin. The Lechon Kawali should then be chopped into bite-sized pieces and served immediately.
Lechon Kawali and KBL.
Trust me on this, the long process of salting, boiling, drying, and frying is worth it. As far as flavor goes, Lechon Kawali is heavenly--it's deep-fried pork belly for chrissakes! The skin is wonderfully crisp and crunchy, while the luscious fat keeps the meat plenty moist.
Lechon Kawali is nearly perfect on its own, but it can also be served with cold beer and a side of Kamatis, Bagoong, and Lasona--also known as KBL, also known as tomatoes, fish sauce, and onions (Ilocos Style, son! What?! What?!).
God help me.
Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds pork belly, cut into three pieces
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
Place all of the ingredients in a large zip-top bag, making sure pork is coated evenly in all the spices. Place the bag of pork in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, place all of the contents of the bag into a large pot and discard the bag. Pour enough cold water into the pot to cover the pork by 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. Skim any scum from the surface of the water.
Using tongs, remove pork from the water and place pork on paper towels to dry. Optional--strain pork broth from pot and freeze broth for later use.
Place the pork on a wire rack over a cookie sheet and into the refrigerator. Allow the pork to dry in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 24 hours.
Heat oil in a large dutch oven, or deep fryer, to 375 degrees F. There should be enough oil to completely submerge the pork. Place the chilled pork into the hot oil and fry for 45 minutes to an hour, until the pork skin becomes blistered and golden brown.
Remove pork from oil and drain on paper towels. Chop the pork into small pieces and serve immediately.