I have always loved lechon kawali, but increasingly find several versions that are either bland and tasteless, overly dry or just way too reliant on the bottled sauces (like sweet liver sauce) that often accompany it. Alternatively, some restaurants seem to soak their meat in an MSG solution that gives it more flavor, but sends you into a post lunch siesta for a couple of hours. A couple of weeks ago, just as the cook was about to deep fry large slices of pork belly for a homemade version of lechon kawali, I decided to make a “relish” or “salsa” of sorts to serve with the pork.
My mom used to make a similar salsa, though it was cooked until all the ingredients were almost a mush. I wanted a fresher version, and decided to experiment. Into a hot pan with some lard I sautéed some thinly sliced red onions, then quickly added some chopped tomatoes, several tablespoons of spicy bagoong (you can use mild if you like) and several fresh kamias or iba fruit, also chopped up. Season with some freshly ground black pepper. Toss for a few seconds and when all the ingredients are mixed, take it immediately off the flames and transfer to a serving dish/bowl. The idea is to just slightly heat everything up, not to turn the salsa into a cooked dish. Serve with the lechon kawali. The verdict? SLAM DUNK! I can’t believe I haven’t done this for decades. The pungent, salty, sour, somewhat soft condiment was the perfect partner to the rich, crunchy exterior and moist interior of the deep-fried pork. So much better than bottled sauces. I particularly like the sharp hit of sour from the kamias, and obviously this stirred up some childhood memories… We wiped out the first batch of salsa in minutes, and the crew were so smitten they immediately cooked up a second, much larger batch with some of the fatty bits of the already eaten lechon kawali. They also added more bagoong, and the resulting salsa was eaten not only with pork, but just plain and mixed in with their rice! :)