In the Philippines, grilled and skewered pork is called pork barbecue.
Right. It doesn’t matter what the marinade is. If it’s pork and it’s skewered and grilled, it’s pork barbecue. It’s street food, it’s party food and it’s a popular dish served during Christmas and New Year.
Is there a perfect barbecue sauce?
Well, I suppose the answer will vary from one person to the next. For me, that means a delightful balance between saltiness, spiciness, sweetness and tanginess.
You can use bottled sauce or powdered barbecue mix but, if you like more control, you can make your own. As far as I am concerned, the perfect barbecue sauce / marinade is not available in your local grocery.
Tips for making a basic barbecue sauce
To achieve saltiness, we can use salt, soy sauce or even patis. To make the marinade spicy, we can use chopped chilies, pepper flakes, whole peppercorns or freshly cracked peppercorns, or ground pepper. We add sugar to make it sweet and we add a sour ingredient like lemon juice, kalamansi juice or vinegar to add a tangy flavor.
The trouble with salt is that it does not add any color to the marinade. Patis, on the other hand, will give it a pungent odor. When I make barbecue marinade, I always go for soy sauce.
Chopped chilies, chili flakes, peppercorns or ground pepper? Your pick.
What about sugar? Is it sugar or bust? Actually, if you substitute honey or even pancake syrup, you’ll come up with a thicker and shinier sauce. A thick shiny sauce coating the meat really looks fantastic.
Lemon or kalamansi juice, or vinegar? My first choice is always kalamansi juice but squeezing a dozen or more kalamansi can be tiresome. Lemon juice or lime juice are both fine. Vinegar is always a last resort — too strong and the aroma is not exactly pleasant.
Adding ooomph to barbecue sauce
So, if you mix all the ingredients that will give you saltiness, spiciness, sweetness and tanginess, is it enough to make a great barbecue sauce or marinade?
Nope, it will still taste flat. You want to add body to the sauce or marinade. How do you do that? Herbs help. But it can also be something as simple as adding lots of chopped onions and finely minced garlic. Finely grated ginger will add a piquant and very Oriental flavor to your barbecue sauce or marinade.
If you want to add herbs, try lemongrass. If you want an even more complex explosion of flavors, combine lemongtass with scallions. Those are the two herbs used in this recipe.
- 1 ½ kilograms pork neck/shoulder kasim
- 18 stalks scallions chopped
- 8 stalks lemongrass thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ½ cup vegetable oil will keep the meat ultra moist
- ¾ cup patis (fish sauce)
- 2 tablespoons honey (optional)
- ¼ cup kalamansi juice
- ¼ cup toasted sesame seeds stirred with 2 teaspoons of salt
- cilantro snipped
- Cut the pork across the grain to about 1/4 inch thin (thinner, if you can manage it) then cut into small pieces, about 2 inches square.
- With a mortar and pestle, pound the scallions, lemongrass, garlic, ginger and pepper.
- Place the pork in a bowl. Add the lemongrass mixture, sugar, fish sauce, honey (if using), vegetable oil and kalamansi juice. Cover and marinate in the fridge overnight.
- An hour before grilling, soak the bamboo skewers in water. That’s to prevent them from catching fire on the grill.
- Fire up the grill.
- Thread the pork slices with the bamboo skewers, four to five pieces per stick.
- Grill the pork in batches (do not overcrowd the grill) until nicely browned and lightly charred, about two to three minutes per side.
- To serve, sprinkle the skewered pork with the sesame seed-salt mixture. Then, sprinkle with snipped cilantro.
- The skewered pork is great by itself as an appetizer or snack. Or, serve with rice as a main course.