Known locally as ‘lechon tiyan na may sawsawan,’ this simply pork dish is a daughter recipe of the legendary Filipino ‘lechon‘ which calls for a whole, freshly killed sucking pig to be stuffed and marinated for a day with lemongrass, onion and herbs before being roasted on a bamboo pole over open coals. The whole procedure takes ages to do, and is often used at the focal point for socialising over family celebrations.
While it is quite possible to cook a proper lechon at home, there are ways to obtain the flavours without digging a fire pit in your back garden. The key thing is to get the onion and lemongrass taste into a piece of pork that has enough fat to stay moist and enough skin to crackle. The ideal cut for this is belly.
Lechon belly with sawsawan
- For the pork:
- 40–45cm length of boneless pork belly (approx. 2kg; see notes)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cloves of garlic, roughly cut up
- 1 red onion, chopped
- Bunch of spring onions, whole
- 5 stalks of lemon grass, bruised
- Soy sauce
- Vegetable oil
- For the sawsawan (dipping sauce):
- 8 tbsp soy sauce
- 4 tbsp Datu Puti sukang maasim vinegar (or distilled, white vinegar)
- 1 red chilli, chopped
- 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
- 2 cherry tomatoes, chopped (optional)
- 1 red onion, chopped
- Handful of coriander, chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of brown sugar
Heat an oven to 175˚C.
Deeply score the flesh side of the pork belly in a 1-inch cross-hatch pattern (almost through to the skin) and rub with the seasoning, Cast over with the garlic and onion and lay on the spring onions and lemon grass lengthways.
Roll the belly up tightly and tie with string at intervals along the length. Rub the skin with the soy sauce to colour it. Place the belly directly on the wire rack of an oven (place a drip tray underneath) and roast for 2 hours.
Meanwhile, make the sawsawan (dipping sauce) by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl. Adjust to taste. Leave to infuse.
After 2 hours, remove the belly from the oven and brush over with oil. Return to the oven for another hour.
Remove from the oven once you are confident the skin is crispy. It may need a shade longer depending on your oven. Leave on the counter for 15 mins to rest and crisp up some more.
Serve with rice and the sawsawan as a dip.
It is important to get the belly with nicely dry skin. This means getting it from a proper butcher, and not wrapped in plastic from a supermarket.