Of the countless ways to cook pork, my favorite is roasting it. The end products of such method are spectacularly delicious. Like suckling pig and its different versions. There’s the Chinese style of suckling pig. And then, there’s its Spanish counterpart, the cochinillo. In the Philippines, of course, there is lechon, which is even considered the national dish. Every occasion has it — town fiestas, weddings, baptisms, Christmas parties, and — gasp! — even some funerals in rural areas. The younger the pig, the softer and juicier the meat is. People race to get the skin, which is oh so crispy and crrrrrunchy!
So why is it that people only have these delicious dishes during special occasions? For starters, we know how difficult these dishes are to make. Also, you’ll need to slaughter and roast an entire pig if you want to make lechon. If it’s cochinillo, you’ll need a piglet. And it’s not as if piglets are easily bought at any grocery, right? And an entire lechon for a family of, say, four? Not practical.
Given these considerations, I asked myself: isn’t there a way to make homemade lechon? How about making cochinillo at home? How can you make the perfect roast pork at home – crispy skin and very juicy meat?
Here’s my answer: my roasted pork belly recipe. I use pork belly because it’s one of the softest, if not the softest part of the pig. It has just the right amount of meat, and has a good amount of skin. To make this recipe successfully, prep is critical, as you will need to soak the pork in the marinade overnight. Marinating the pork gives it great flavor, and keeps the pork moist even while in the oven. This recipe also has a very delicious gravy. You will truly enjoy this winning dish.
The Main Ingredient
- Pork Belly, 1 kilo / 2.2 lbs.
- Pineapple Juice, 1 liter
- Soy sauce, 1/3 cup
- Lemon Grass, cut into 6-inch strips
- Onion, 1 head, coarsely chopped
- Garlic, 1 head, coarsely chopped
- Salt and Pepper
Marinating the Pork. Put all the marinade ingredients in the sauce pan. Use low heat. Once the juice starts to boil, simmer for 5 minutes and then turn off the flame. Heating the marinade ingredients brings out the flavor of ingredients like the onion and lemon grass. But don’t cook beyond 5 minutes, lest the flavors would evaporate. Also use a lid on the saucepan so that the flavor stays inside the pot. Allow the sauce pan to cool (at room temperature). Once the marinade is cool, place the pork and marinate overnight.
Note on marinating: waiting for the sauce pan to cool before placing the pork to marinate may be time consuming. I put ice cubes for quick and easy cooling. Do not put the pork when the marinade is hot. Otherwise, the pork would cook too early.
Roasting. After marinating for 8 hours, you are ready for roasting. Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Rub butter and olive oil on the pork. Then rub with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Roast in the oven skin-down for 40 minutes. Baste often with a mixture of olive oil and butter. The olive oil and butter make the skin crispy. And of course, baste with the drippings of the pork. After 40 minutes, turn the pork skin up. Broil for 15 minutes. Baste the skin often to achieve that crunchy taste.
By the way, I would put the pork on a metal rack and not on the pyrex or roasting pan to enable me to get the drippings more efficiently. I also put strips of lemon grass on the metal rack so that they lend their flavor to the pork. Lechon makers stuff the pig with lemon grass for great flavor. I also put a small bowl of soy sauce and lemon on the bottom part of the oven. The soy sauce evaporates in the oven and its steam adds additional flavor to the pork.
Ovens vary in terms of performance, so you may see the meat cooked but the skin would be nowhere crunchy. What works for me is to very briefly fry the pork skin down on a non-stick pan (1 to 1 ½ minutes, high heat). I pierce the skin prior to its frying to release the pork’s natural oils. This made sure that my recipe went well.
Gravy. In a separate sauce pan, put the pork drippings. Add 2 cups of pork broth. To thicken the gravy, I used about 10 pieces of crushed Fita biscuits (or use plain Ritz biscuits). Add salt and pepper. Allow it to simmer for around 3 minutes. If you want a thicker gravy, add more biscuits.
Serve the pork right away. How’s the taste? The ingredients blend very well to create one delicious dish. Considering that I put pineapple in the marinade plus lemon grass and other ingredients – the ingredients did not overpower and compete with each other. The lemon grass complements the pineapple juice very well, with the lemon grass providing just a very subtle hint of its flavor. The skin is very crunchy, while the meat is very soft and moist. It was so easy to slice it with a knife. Had I been able to use a younger kind of pig, perhaps, I would have been able to slice through it using a saucer, which is the practice when slicing cochinillo.
There it is. My Roast Pork Belly recipe. A very easy, simple dish at home. Consider it as your cochinillo or lechon recipe at home. Serves 4 to 6 people. Enjoy!