Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

I've never visited the Philippines, but I love that country's food. My Filipino friends are teaching me more about it and have been bringing me gifts from their visits home: refreshing but potent calaman-cello (like limoncello but made with calamansi limes), jars of rich crab "butter" and artisanal coconut vinegar. In the meantime, I'm visiting Filipino restaurants in Hong Kong (Lab Eat, in Tsim Sha Tsui, is my favourite, and I also like Foodtrip Bedana, in Jordan) and experimenting with the cuisine at home.

Sizzling sisig (pictured)

I tasted sizzling sisig (also called pork sisig) at Lab Eat and it became the first Filipino dish I tried to make. After looking online and in my cookbooks, I realised that while the ingredients are similar from recipe to recipe (the pork is usually - but not always - from the face), there's a lot of leeway in the technique: some use the leftovers from making lechon (whole roast suckling pig), others boil fresh pork; after cooking the meat, some people grill the pieces to crisp them up before chopping them while others pan-fry the pork before doing so.

On my first attempt at cooking this dish using pork belly, I realised that because there's so much residual fat in the meat, even after boiling it, that chopping it then stir-frying it in a wok over high heat does a great job of browning it. To make sure there are crunchy bits, I mix in crumbled pieces of fried pork skin.

This recipe makes a lot. Instead of halving the amount, you can make the full recipe, serve half, then chill the rest. Reheat the leftovers and serve with warm corn tortillas; my Filipino friends say sisig tacos are a popular new fusion dish.

You can purchase fried pork skin and fresh calamansi in shops specialising in Filipino ingredients.

Pork sisig is considered a snack to enjoy with beer, but I like to eat it with garlic rice. It's often served on a heated cast-iron sizzler plate, which keeps it hot.

750 grams well-layered, skin-on pork belly

2 pig ears (about 350 grams in total)

Cooking oil, as needed

1 onion (about 220 grams), chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

200 grams chicken livers, finely chopped

4-8 red bird's-eye chillies (or more to taste), chopped

1 green banana chilli, cut into 5mm pieces

About 20ml fish sauce

About 20ml fresh calamansi juice

About 30ml vinegar (distilled white, rice or

coconut vinegar)

Fine sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

To serve:

Fresh calamansi limes, halved

1-2 3mm-thick slices of red onion, chopped

2 eggs (use only one if serving half the recipe)

Mayonnaise (optional)

Use a butane (or propane) torch to singe off the hairs on the pig ears and the skin of the pork belly. Rinse the ears and belly with water. Fill a large pot about three-quarters of the way with water, add about 10 grams of salt and bring to the boil. Add the belly and ears, bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 90 minutes, or until the pieces are tender enough to be easily pierced with a paring knife. Remove the belly and ears from the water and as soon as they're cool enough to handle, finely chop them.

Heat a wok or pan (preferably well-seasoned cast-iron or carbon steel) over a medium-high flame. If using cast-iron or carbon steel, rub oil very lightly into the interior; if using stainless steel, add about 20ml of cooking oil, or more as needed to prevent the pork from sticking. When the wok/pan is hot, add the chopped belly and ears and cook, stirring frequently. The fat will start to render out of the pieces, which will turn brown and crisp. Remove the solids from the pan, leaving behind as much fat as possible. If there's more than about 30ml of fat, pour off some of it; if there's less than 30ml of fat, add cooking oil to the pan. Heat it over a medium flame then add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft. Add the pork back to the pan, season it lightly with salt and stir it until it starts to sizzle. Mix in the chicken liver, red and green chillies, fish sauce, calamansi juice, vinegar and some black pepper. Stir constantly until the chicken liver is cooked, then taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Scoop the sisig onto a hot, lightly oiled sizzler platter (or a plate) then scatter the red onion pieces on top. Make two craters in the sisig then crack two eggs and put one into each indentation. Drizzle with mayonnaise (if using) and add several fresh calamansi pieces. Squeeze the juice from the calamansi, then mix in the egg and mayonnaise.

Garlic rice

600 grams cooked long-grain rice, chilled

10 garlic cloves, chopped

About 45ml cooking oil (or lard)

Fine sea salt

Use dampened hands to break up any lumps of rice. Put 45ml of oil (or lard) in a wok, add the garlic and heat over a low flame until the garlic is medium golden. Watch it carefully and stir frequently so it doesn't burn. Use a slotted skimmer to scoop the garlic from the pan, leaving behind the fat. Heat the wok over a medium-high flame, add the rice, season with salt and mix in about three-quarters of the fried garlic. Stir-fry until the rice is hot, adding more oil or lard if needed to prevent it from sticking to the pan. Scoop the rice into a serving bowl and scatter the reserved garlic on top.

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