Talk of Filipino fiesta and guess what comes to mind? Why, lechon of course. But for a small get-together, roasting a whole pig on a spit is not only wasteful, it’s unhealthy. Even so there should be a way to enjoy lechon without going to all that trouble. Being the eternal pragmatist, our Filipino chef (not me) posits, “Surely there’s no need to go the whole hog (pun intended) when the belly will do. And why build a spit when a frying pan works just as well.” And so, a delicious compromise was born – lechon kawali.
This is my version of that all-time Filipino favourite. But I’ll be honest with you, I have tweaked the recipe yet again. No frying pan (or kawali, for which the dish was named) is used in my version. Whereas the traditional lechon kawali is deep-fried in oil, mine is roasted. For that reason I’d like to think that my recipe – let’s call it Slow-roasted Pork Belly – is healthy. Well, healthi-er. Hmmm, have I just made history back there? I think that was the first time that words “healthy” and “pork belly” were used in the same sentence.
- 4 strips pork belly from the thick end, each about 5 cm wide
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp salt
- 3 bamboo skewers
- boiling water
How to Cook Slow-roasted Pork Belly
Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees C fan forced (or 180 degrees C conventional). Pat the pork belly strips dry with paper towels. Score the skin using a very sharp knife. Space the cuts about 2 cm apart. These will have shrunk to about 1 cm by the time the pork belly is cooked; the perfect serving size for the dish.
Rub the skin liberally with oil and then with salt. Lay the pork belly strips side-by-side skin side up and run the skewers through the meat, one in the middle and the other two about 2 cm from each end. Leave about 1 cm between each strip. Skewering the pork belly keeps the skin side up which helps to develop the crackling. It also allows the heat to circulate evenly around and between the strips.
Place the pork belly in the oven on the middle rack directly over the roasting tray. Pour boiling water into the roasting tray about 1 cm deep. The water keeps the pork belly moist. Roast for about 2 hours replenishing the boiling water when it runs low.
Turn on the oven’s grill in the last 5 minutes of cooking. This crisps up the skin and turns it into crackling. Keep a close eye on it as it is easy to turn the crackling into charcoal at this stage. Take the pork belly out of the oven, cover loosely with foil and set aside for 10 minutes. Once rested, slice the pork belly along the scores on the skin. Serve immediately.
Slow-roasted Pork Belly Tips
- The thicker end of the pork belly works best for this recipe. There is little danger of undercooking because the pork belly is cut into strips allowing the heat to cook the meat evenly. In my local Chinese butcher, this cut of meat is known as “BBQ pork”.
- Do not be tempted to bring the pork belly up close to the grill. This is a sure-fire way of turning crackling into charcoal.
- Try this quick and easy dipping sauce. Combine 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tbsp Kikkoman soy sauce, 1 clove garlic (smashed and peeled), 1 small onion (chopped) and 1 bird’s eye chilli (chopped). It cuts through the greasiness of the pork.