In Caloocan City where I grew up and where I lived with Speedy and the girls for six years before we moved to the suburb, there was a Filipino-Chinese restaurant called 7th West where they served pork face Chinese style. The popular name for this dish is halo, literally mixed, so-called because in the original halo recipe, the diced pork face is mixed with other pork cuts like isaw (intestines), dila (tongue) and tito (part of the stomach). This sweet spicy pork cheeks recipe is a variation of halo.
How to buy pork face
Maskara, or mask, is the popular name for pork face in the Philippines. The ears, rind and part of the cheeks are separated from the skull in one piece. There is no Filipino dish called maskara, however. It is merely the term for the part of the pork used for making tokwa’t baboy (fried tofu and boiled pork head), a side dish for lugaw (congee) and sisig (a spicy dish made with chopped pork face, liver and brain), among others. When you buy maskara in Philippine wet markets, the butcher will do the cutting and trimming for you.
In the grocery—at least, in some groceries like S&R—pork face is sold either as cheeks or jowls. They come meticulously cleaned so the instructions below for cleaning pork face does not strictly apply to grocery bought pork cheeks or jowls. But if you’re dealing with maskara from the wet market, read on.
How to clean pork face
Any dish using pork face depends a lot on how well the meat is cleaned. To remove any remaining hair on the rind, use a kitchen torch to scorch them. An electronic cigarette lighter will the job too but don’t use Zippo lighters to avoid getting the stench of the lighter fluid on the meat. Another alternative is to pass the rind over the live flame of the stove. Whatever flame you decide to use, don’t use candles—the pork rind will turn blackish. When I was in my teens and didn’t know that these hairs could be removed by scorching, I used tweezers to pull them out. One by one. Believe me, you don’t want to do that.
After removing any remaining hairs, rinse the maskara well. Then scrape the entire surface with a sharp knife. Cut into chunks, separating the ears from the rest. Chop off the “inside” part of the ears—that part where, had the pig been human, you’d been using cotton buds to clean—and discard. I can’t describe it any better than that. Use a small knife to scrape along the creases. When the maskara has been cleaned, you’re ready to cook it.
For my sweet spicy pork cheeks, I used pork cheeks from the grocery which I cooked in three stages.
First, I boiled the pork cheeks with ginger, shallots, peppercorns and bay leaf. I always add ginger when cooking offal to remove the strong smell.
When the pork cheeks were tender, I cut them into strips and laid them out on a lightly oiled baking tray.
The sliced pork cheeks went into a preheated 425F oven and, some 20 minutes later, they were browned and crisp.
I prepped vegetables and mixed the sauces and cooked the sweet spicy pork cheeks on the stovetop.
The thing about pork-turned-crackling is that it doesn’t lose its crispiness fast if you cook it in a thick sauce. It would be totally different if you add it to broth. But with sauce as thick as sweet chili sauce made even thicker by adding oyster sauce, the pork retained its crispiness when it we finally dug in.
Chinese-style Sweet Spicy Pork Cheeks
Brown the pork cheeks
- Preheat the oven to 425F.
- Cut the pork cheeks into strips about half an inch wide.
- Line a baking tray with foil, lightly spray the foil with oil then spread the pork cheek slices on the oiled foil.
- Cook the sliced pork cheeks in the oven for about 20 minutes or until browned and crisp.
Prep the vegetables
- While the pork cheek slices are in the oven, prepare the vegetables. Deseed and cut the bell pepper into thin strips.
- Peel and thinly slice the onion.
- Peel and grate the ginger.
- Peel and mince the garlic.
- Peel and julienne the carrot.
Stir fry the pork and vegetables
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan.
- Stir fry the bell pepper, carrot and onion for half a minute.
- Add the ginger and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and continue cooking for another half a minute.
- Add the pork to the vegetables.
- Pour in the sweet chili sauce and oyster sauce.
- Cook, stirring, until the sauce is bubbly.
- Off the heat, stir in the sesame seed oil.
- Sprinkle the sweet spicy pork cheeks with sliced scallions before serving.