Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Litson Kawali (Pan-Roasted or Deep Fried Pork Belly)

“Litson Kawali” or “Lechon Kawali” which literally means pan-roasted pork refers to the tasty Filipino dish of pre-boiled slab of pork belly deep-fried in a frying pan until the skin is crispy but the inside meat remains juicy. The term “litson” or “lechon” generally means roasted pork while “kawali” is a Filipino word that pertains to the bowl-shaped frying pan traditionally used in many Asian cooking, also known as “wok” in China, “wok”, “kuali”, or “kwali” in Malaysia and Singapore, “wajan” in Indonesia, ”chao” in Vietnam, “dare-oh” in Burma and “chukka nabe” or “shina nabe” in Japan. Therefore “litson kawali” is basically pork belly deep fried in a “kawali” or pan which after cooking resembles a “lechon” due to its golden crispy skin.

In the Philippines, “kawali” is also known as “carajay” that’s why the dish is sometimes referred to as, especially during the older times, “Litson de Carajay”.

Pork belly (“liempo”), the cut used in making bacon, is the same part of pork that is ideal for the dish. The good amount of fat in the cut which can be tenderized and fried crisp, while maintaining the inside meat, composed of alternating layers of lean meat and thin fat, still juicy, succulent and tasty is the reason while the cut is considered perfect for the dish. A regular entree in most special gatherings, ”litson kawali” is usually serve with “lechon" sauce or with a vinegar dip with chopped garlic, chili, onion and ground pepper.

There are other regional dishes in the Philippines which are very similar to “litson kawali”. In Camiling town in the province of Tarlac, the residents have their locally famous but just fairly known outside “Chicharon Camiling” or “Litson Camiling”. The dish is so popular in the town and slowly gaining recognition from the other parts of the province that prompted the local government to launch the yearly festival called “Chicharon and Inuruban Festival” in honor (partly) of the dish. This “chicharon” is known to remain crispy even after several days of cooking.

In the Ilocos provinces of Northern Philippines, they have their well-known deep fried pork called “Bagnet”. It is their version of the “litson kawali” that remains in the top list of homegrown delicacy of the region. “Bagnet” preparation is an old handed-down tradition of deep-frying the pork meat until very crispy, primarily to preserve whatever excess meat and extend its life shelf during the times when refrigerators are not yet common. It became quite popular that commercial production was started in the 1980s.

To prepare the “litson kawali”, we need about 2 kilograms pork belly. The skin should be scraped-clean and the whole part washed, drained and then cut into several smaller slabs.

The other ingredients are 1 pc carrot, peeled and cut to small sizes, 8 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed, 1 large onion, peeled and quartered, 2 stalks of celery, 2 pcs bay leaves, 1 tsp whole peppercorn, 2 tbsp salt or to taste and enough water to cover.

Arrange the slabs of pork belly in a large, heavy casserole and cover with enough water. Let the water boil on high heat. Scoop out all the scum that will appear on the surface during the initial boiling stage. When the broth is clear, adjust the heat to low and add all the above ingredients and continue simmering until the pork is just tender. The meat should be tender but the skin and fat should still be firmed enough to allow nice blistering when frying.

Remove the meat from the broth, let it cool, drain and slightly dry up. You can wrap and freeze it if frying is to be done some other time. Filter the broth and discard the spices and vegetables. Spoon out the oil that will float on the surface of the broth. Set aside both broth and collected oil for other use.

To fry, heat enough oil in a large “kawali” or deep frying pan. Deep fry the pork slab until the skin is golden brown and crispy. Mine is a little short of oil so I have to cook both sides properly. Let the meat cool on normal room temperature. Afterwards, fry it again to make the skin real nice and extra crisp. As the frying involves huge amount of oil with a very high temperature, extra care and proper precautions should be observed. Children should be at least 20 meters away. :-) They will smell the drooling aroma when you’re done cooking anyway.

Place the cooked meat in a shallow bowl and let to cool for while. In the meantime, prepare your steamed rice and favorite dipping sauce which are either the simple spiced vinegar or the creamy “lechon” sauce. “Atchara” or the Filipino pickled green papaya also goes well with the dish. Sometimes I go with chopped tomatoes and chili with soy sauce and “calamansi” or lemon juice.

When about to eat, the crispy slab of pork should be chopped to bite sizes. All you need is a sharp heavy knife and a quick chopping action to cut through the crispy skin of the meat. This food maybe fat laden but utterly delicious. Enjoy it! Once in while! c“,)

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