Filipino food gets a bad rap, but I love many of the dishes: adobo, kinilaw, lumpia and even dinuguan - the rich, dark stew made with pig’s blood and innards. One of my favourite dishes is sisig, made with chopped pork, onions and chillies, and served with vinegar and/or fresh calamansi to add a sharp flavour that balances the fattiness of the meat.
Sizzling sisig (sometimes called spicy sisig, or just sisig) is the first Filipino dish I ever cooked. After talking to friends and looking online and in my cookbooks, I realised that while the ingredients are similar from recipe to recipe, there's a lot of leeway in the technique: you can start with cooked meat (often leftovers from lechon - whole roast suckling pig) or with raw pork. If using raw meat, it's often boiled, then grilled or pan-fried, to crisp up the pieces before being chopped. I cook the boiled, chopped meat in a wok to brown it lightly, and then, for crunch, I mix in crumbled pieces of chicharrones (fried pork cracklings) at the end.
I like to start with a whole pig’s head because it has so many textures: lots of fat and skin, some meat, and a nice crunch from cartilage in the ears. But pig’s head isn’t always easy to get, so for this recipe, I use pork belly and add a couple of pig ears. I also like to mix in a couple of poached pig brains, which give the sisig a creamy texture. Like the head, though, pig brains are not easy to find, so I substitute chicken livers.
This recipe makes a lot, but I never halve the recipe. The leftovers can be chilled for about a week, or frozen for longer storage. Reheat the leftovers and serve with warm corn tortillas - sisig tacos are delicious.
Use a butane (or propane) torch to singe off the hairs from the pig ears and skin of the pork belly. Sprinkle the pig ears with salt and rub it in thoroughly. Rinse the pig ears and belly with water. Fill a large pot about three-quarters of the way with water and bring to the boil. Add the belly and ears, simmer for five minutes then drain. Rinse the meat with running water, and wash out the pot. Fill it again about three-quarters of the way with water, add about 10g (2tsp) of salt and bring to the boil. Add the belly and ears and bring to the boil - if needed, add more boiling water, to cover the meat. Lower the flame and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the skin on the pork belly is tender enough to be easily pierced with a paring knife. Remove the belly from the water and continue to cook the ears for another 30 minutes, or until the thickest part can be pierced easily with a paring knife. Take the ears from the water. As soon as pork belly and ears are cool enough to handle, cut them into small pieces.
Roughly chop the onion, and finely chop the garlic and chicken livers. Mince the bird's-eye chilli and slice the banana chilli into thin pieces.
Heat a wok or large pan (preferably well-seasoned cast-iron or carbon steel) over a medium-high flame. When the wok/pan is hot, pour in about 20ml (4tsp) of oil, then add the chopped belly and ears. Cook for about 30-45 minutes, stirring frequently, until some of the fat renders out and the meat starts to brown. Remove the solids from the pan, leaving behind as much fat as possible. If there's more than about 30ml (2tbsp) of fat, pour off some of it; if there's less than 30ml of fat, add cooking oil to the pan.
Heat the pan 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, both types of chillies, the fish sauce, calamansi juice, vinegar and some black pepper. Stir constantly until the chicken liver is cooked. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary.
Scoop the sisig onto a hot, lightly oiled sizzler platter (or a serving plate). Chop the red onion and scatter the pieces on top. Make two craters in the sisig then crack two eggs and put one yolk into each indentation (save the whites for another use). Drizzle with mayonnaise (if using) and add several fresh calamansi, cut in half, to the plate. Scatter some chicharrones on top (break them into smaller pieces, if they're large). Squeeze the juice from the calamansi, then mix in the egg and mayonnaise before eating with garlic rice.