The English-speaking world calls it roast pork belly; we call it lechon kawali — 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.
I hate frying and, since 2005, I have cooking my lechon kawali in the oven which makes it more roast pork belly than the traditional lechon kawali. Back then, I called it lechon sa hurno.
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 in very salty water. I like adding garlic cloves and peppercorns too. But don’t stop there because there are a lot more than you can add to to add flavor and aroma to the meat. Onions, scallions and lemongrass will do wonders. Add them all, if you feel like it.
Add all your aromatics to the water (don’t forget to include a generous amount of salt) and bring to a rolling boil (see illustration). Drop in the pork, 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, turn off the stove and leave the pork to soak in the broth. Leave it there until it cools to room temperature. As the meat cools, it will continue to absorb all the flavors and aroma from the aromatics.
When the pork has cooled, scoop out carefully so that nothing breaks apart (a kitchen spider is useful for this task). The pork 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… Perfect roast pork belly!
Here’s the other side. Nicely browned all over and the skin puffed and crisp.
Let the roast pork belly 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? Yes — just preheat the oven very well and keep the temperature at the highest setting.
Last updated on June 8, 2017