What is lechon kawali? Filipinos know but for the benefit of non-Filipinos who may stumble upon this post, lechon kawali is deep-fried pork belly. A slab of pork belly, skin on, is simmered in salted water, drained and cooled then lowered into a pot of very, very hot oil. During frying, the surface of the pork is browned and the skin puffs and turns crisp. The slab of pork is then allowed to rest for a few minutes before it is chopped into serving-size pieces.
This post incorporates two earlier related posts that trace the history of my non-deep fried lechon kawali.
December 5, 2005: Lechon sa hurno (oven roasted pork)
We were planning on seeing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire yesterday morning, and eat an early lunch our, but Big Sister wouldn’t get out of bed. By 12.00 noon we knew we wouldn’t be able to go out anymore. Little Sister was throwing a tantrum and I was problematic about lunch. I hadn’t taken anything out of the freezer because the plan was to eat lunch out.
I took out a whole slab of pork and threw it, very much frozen still, into the pressure cooker. I added a lot of salt and some water and cooked it for about 40 minutes from the time the valve started to turn.
Straight from the pressure cooker, I placed the boiled pork into an oven dish, skin side, up, and put in the oven. Minutes later, it turned into that mouthwatering thing you see in the photo. It’s really lechon kawali except that there’s no deep frying involved.
What’s so cool about cooking lechon kawali in the oven, anyway? Well, first, you save time. You can’t deep fry a newly-boiled slab of pork. You need to cool it and air dry it a bit. If you cook it in the oven, you can skip that part.
Then, of course, there’s the oil issue. People seem to be allergic to anything fried these days. Actually, I hate frying but not so much for health reasons but because I hate oil spatters. I don’t like being a kitchen slave. If I can do something with half the mess and half the cleaning, I’m all for it.
Note that I don’t think this can be done in a traditional oven, especially gas ovens. What you need is an oven that can grill. A convection oven or an electric oven with a “broil” setting (heat source on top) will do the trick. A turbo broiler will do as well. Like a convection oven, a turbo broiler has a fan that circulates the heat.
What I did was to set both the top and bottom heat, and the fan, on during the first 15 minutes or so of grlling. When the meat started to show signs of browning, I switched the bottom heat and the fan off. The heat directly above the pork skin (rind) did the job of turning it into a crackling.
September 25, 2010: Lechon kawali, the easy way
Food fads notwithstanding, my family is unapologetically carnivorous. We don’t shy away from traditional meat dishes that, by today’s standards, would make the health-conscious cringe in horror. In other words, we love our lechon kawali and crispy pata. But because of my aversion to frying (I hate the oil spatter and the clean-up it entails), for the past so many years, we have been cooking our lechon kawali and crispy pata in the convection oven. We get the same puffed and crunchy pork rind and meat that is nicely browned outside and moist and juicy inside.
The purists and food snobs can howl and criticize all they want — I don’t care. Neither should you if you want to cook smart.
Now, about the lechon kawali which wasn’t cooked in a kawali (frying pan) at all. Since I already have an oven-cooked lechon kawali in the archive (the one above), is this simply an updated version? Sort of, and more. In the archived entry, I used a slab of pork and I did the cooking in an electric convection oven. In this entry, I used sliced pork belly which I cooked in the turbo broiler. See, I wanted to find out if the pork slices won’t turn dry inside. Result of the experiment? A resounding success.
The pork belly slices, salted and kept in the fridge for a couple of hours, were about an inch and a half thick. I hope you can see the beautifully puffed rinds.
Now, here’s the trick to puff those rinds and brown the meat without drying it up. First, use good quality meat — the meat from a young hog. Why? Because the rinds are thinner. They’ll puff up and turn crisp instead of becoming chewy.
Second, use high heat. Very, very high heat. I set the turbo broiler at 475F and it took about 40 minutes to get the pork to cook to that stage of perfection.
Third, let the cooked pork rest for a few minutes before chopping into bite-sized pieces. That should give the juices sufficient time to settle down instead of dripping once the chopping begins.
October 29, 2010: Lechon kawali with no deep frying (with step-by-step photos)
Is possible to make the equivalent of lechon kawali without frying when using a whole slab of pork? The answer is yes but the pork has to be boiled first. There’s the proof in the photo. Looking at those pork pieces you’d think the pork was deep fried. But it wasn’t. It was cooked in a convection oven. Just look at the puffed rind!
Why boil the pork first? The size. If you place a large piece of pork in an oven at a very high temperature, the outside will be burnt before the inside gets thoroughly cooked.
So, boil the pork first. Submerged in very salty water. I like adding garlic cloves and peppercorns too. When the water boils, lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer the pork until tender. Depending on the quality of the meat and the size of the slab, that should take anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours and a half.
When the pork is done, scoop out carefully so that nothing breaks apart. The skin is very tender at this point so treat the pork lovingly. Place the pork on a roasting rack and place the rack in an oven-proof dish. The rack ensures that the heat touches every part of the pork’s surface so that it browns evenly. The dish underneath is for catching the melted fat. Unless you want a messy oven, place the rack inside a dish.
Preheat the oven to 475F — higher if your oven allows it. When the oven is hot enough, slip the pork in.
After 20 to 25 minutes, look what happens!
Here’s the other side. Nicely browned all over and the skin puffed and crisp.
Let the pork rest for about 10 minutes to allow the juices to settle. If you chop it at once, the wonderful juices will just drip onto your chopping board. So, let the pork rest.
Then, chop. Into slices first. Then, into cubes. Transfer to a plate and serve with rice.
As a final note, I did say I cooked the pork in a convection oven, right? A convection oven is a fan-assisted oven that makes the heat go ’round and ’round. I use an Ariston convection oven. A turbo broiler works too because it is actually a small convection oven. Can the same result be achieved using a traditional oven? I don’t think so. Of course, you can try — just keep the temperature at the highest setting. If it works, please let me know. I’m sure other readers would appreciate the information.