Last month, I shared with you how to make lechon kawali without frying. Sliced pork belly went straight into the turbo broiler and, roasting at 475F, the rinds turned into cracklings — browned, puffed and crisp. But is that possible if cooking with a whole uncut slab of pork belly? Before I answer that, let’s ged rid of the obvious questions first.
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.
That said, let me answer the question as to whether it 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! I’ve done this so many times before, the first time back in 2005 (see lechon sa hurno), and the formula never fails. Consider this entry as a more detailed version of that 2005 experiment.
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 (see a photo on my other blog). 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.