A Filipino BBQ

Lechon Kawali : The finished product

I’m lucky to have some good friends. Friends who love food as much as I do, and who come from many diverse backgrounds and cultures. One of those friends is Jen, and for as long as I can recall she’s been telling me about how great Filipino food is, and how I need to try it. “Back in the Philippines” is her favourite catch phrase, and yet somehow I always seem to be conveniently absent when all of these amazing dishes were being served up, aside from a scorching batch of Bicol Express she’d made at a curry night that now seems like eons ago.

So enough teasing… It was time to put up or shut up. The word was put out and the date set, the great Filipino bbq was finally going to happen. House boy Ben busily got the patio ready with furniture and umbrellas for shade, and both Ben and Jen starting to acquire all the things they’d need to make a Filipino feast.

Now I started to realise why it had taken such a long time for this to all come together. Filipinos do not do things by halves. The list of dishes Jen had taken it upon herself to make was a tour de force of all things good and traditional, and it took the better part of a few days for her to prep it all up.

She had a little help though. Ben, in true male style, ably manned the bbq all day, sister Jasmin did her bit and brought along a dessert dish, and Filipino food appreciator Greg tried his hand at a dish of his own.

In the end the list of dishes sounded a little like this (apologies for misspelling or poor descriptions):

  • Pinakbet : A kind of vegetable stew with pumpkin, string beans, eggplant, okra, shrimp paste
  • (Pancit) Palabok : Noodles covered in an orange coloured sauce (made from fish sauce, corn flour, and a bunch of other things) with prawns and sliced egg and calamansi lime juice
  • Kare Kare: Oxtail stew in peanut sauce, eaten with shrimp paste.
  • Tilapia : A small fish that gets grilled over coals
  • Grilled Liempo : Basically a massive hunk of marinated pork belly grilled on the bbq
  • Lechon Kawali : An awesome way of cooking pork belly by boiling it, cooling it, deep frying it, cooling it again, and then deep frying a second time. This results in beautifully tender pork belly on the inside, with a fantastic crunchy exterior. Greg did an amazing job of this, served in pieces with a dipping sauce, it was fantastic
  • Brazo de Mercedes : A custard / merengue cake rolled into a log and baked. This didn’t turn out quite how Jasmin wanted, so it ended up being a Lasagne de Mercedes. Still tasted great though :)
  • Leche Flan : The ubiquitous Filipino dessert, a decadently rich version of creme caramel.

Kalamansi Caipirinha

I did my best at getting into the spirit by making some fairly potent caipirihnia (national drink of Brazil) using calamansi limes (which are small and intense) and a healthy dose of Tanduay Rum. They weren’t quite to everyones taste, but did make a refreshing change from San Miguel beer in terms of authentic Filipino drinks.

To say this bbq was a feast would be a drastic understatement. Jen had even gone to the trouble to make her own shrimp paste (Bagoong) which was served both as the saltiest condiment I’ve ever tried (something any true Filipino will appreciate), and to flavour many of the dishes.

So maybe there is something to Filipino food after all :)

Pork Belly Kakuni with Scallop Congee

pork belly with scallop congee

I’m not what you’d call the most dedicated cook. I’m fickle… and probably lazy… and if I read over a recipe and it looks like it’s going to be either long or complicated, or will require me to scour the seven seas for perrywinkles and seaweed extract, I’m unlikely to give it a go.

This dish however… made me look twice.

Whilst browsing through my beloved flickr one day, I came across this outstanding photo from Santos, the talented author of Scent of Green Bananas. She’d been sent a copy of a book by chef Masaharu Morimoto (of Iron Chef America fame), and with some inspiration via Aun of Chubby Hubby, decided to give it a shot.

Now despite reading the recipe and finding out that the pork belly would be cooked for a total of around 10 hours, and would take around 2 or 3 days to complete if you follow the recipe to the letter, I figured that the end result looked too good not to give it a shot.

I won’t rehash the recipe here, you can feel free to get the real deal from Aun, or else go out and buy the book, which sounds like it’s full of a lot of great stuff. I will however give you a blow by blow account of the process I went through to make the whole thing.

Pork belly marathon checklist

  • Purchase one slab of boneless pork belly
  • Purchase 4 dried scallops (I got mine from Emma’s Yong Tau Foo in Northbridge), not cheap at $150 / kg !
  • Purchase sake
  • Purchase brown rice (I found some medium grain organic brown rice in Fresh Provisions)
  • Sear pork belly on both sides til brown all over
  • Place pork belly into an oven safe dish and cover it with water, add 3 cups brown rice to the water
  • Cook pork belly for 8 hours in the rice (mine was left overnight, and then cooked for another 8 hours after I realised I didn’t turn the oven on properly… stupid symbols)
  • Take the pork belly out of the rice and wrap it up, rest in fridge for 2 days
  • Make spring onion oil, by slowly heating vegetable oil with spring onions and ginger.
  • Mix rice for congee with spring onion oil, let it sit overnight to absorb the flavour
  • Soak dried scallops in warm water til they are flakey
  • Take pork belly slab out of fridge, slice it up into squares
  • Braise pieces of pork in sake, soy sauce, sugar, and water for 2 hours or so (I also added star anise like Santos)
  • Cook the congee using chicken stock, rice, dried scallops, and spring onion (I also added more pork, and a little coriander)
  • Let the pork cook until it’s nicely caramelised and falling apart
  • Serve the pork over the congee
  • Do not accompany it with an aged 1999 Gew├╝rztraminer from Henschke (it will not do it justice)
  • Savour the taste of your labour

caramelising pork belly