Few foods conjure up visions of lethal arterial blockage like chicharon, lechon skin and lechon kawali. All a variation of a porcine theme, the concept of taking the skin of a pig, the immediate underlying thick layer or wiggly fat, several more layers of â€œmeatâ€ between more fat then frying this all up in even more fat is just too much! Or is it? Most Filipinos are â€œhard-wiredâ€ from birth to have a craving for chicharon, those spectacular pork cracklings or rind that the Spaniards probably introduced to us when they discovered all the great wild boar running around the rain forests of the archipelago. The stuff is pure evil (as my daughter would say) but just too good to pass up. I have always been content buying my chicharon at the nearest grocery or lately from dedicated chicharon manufacturers like Lapidâ€™s or Chicharittos but for my own benefit and the benefit of Marketmanila readers I tried to make chicharon from scratch for the first timeâ€¦with brilliant heart attack material results!
I found a recipe attributed to the late Finance Minister Jaime V. Ongpin (an idol of mine from a finance perspective and turns out from a food one as well and he was the quintessential antithesis to the spiny jellyfish that dominate our government today, okay, thatâ€™s the extent of my political commentary for now) that really intrigued me â€“ it sounded extremely simple and too good to be true. I have altered it slightly but the base idea was his: 1 kilo pork liempo (fat is good), 4 bay leaves, 1 onion quartered, 6 cloves of garlic, whole black peppercorns, salt and lots of vegetable oil. Take the pork liempo (whole) and put it in a heavy pot and add water until the liempo is covered slightly. Add 4 bay leaves, 1 onion (quartered), garlic, maybe 10-12 peppercorns, and bring to a simmer and leave simmering for about 75 minutes or so until meat is tender. During the last 30 minutes of cooking I add salt to the liquid, say half a tablespoon of rock or native salt (not iodized).
Remove the pork and drain it well. I used a fan pointed at the colander to try and dry it out even more (is that apocryphal, moving air drying something faster regardless of air humidity levels???) then patted it dry with paper towels and sliced it into small bite-sized pieces. Put it in a bowl and covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated it for 24 hours (which I presume is to dry it out even more). Then just a few minutes before you want to eat the chicharon, heat up lots of oil and fry the pork pieces carefully (whoa! The splattering is a pain in the neck) until light golden brown. Sprinkle with fine salt (preferably not iodized). Serve hot with vinegar and sili labuyo. I made this recipe with a meaty piece of liempo so it had a lot of â€œlamanâ€ or meat. Absolutely delicious and a great appetizer or snack.