This was an amazing dish in so many ways… But before you read any further, if you have cholesterol levels exceeding 150, are hypertensive, have a fatty liver, or are prone to gout or bangugut, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER. STOP NOW! You have been duly warned. I was at the grocery (S&R, can you tell I spend a mint there?) yesterday morning and saw a whole lechon being chopped up, but the head had been set aside. Out of curiousity, I asked how much they were going to ask for it and at PHP350 or so, it seemed like a bargain. I didn’t really know what to do with it, but an earlier comment from BettyQ about buying lechon parts before she made sisig and the recent poll on Pinoy favorite foods had me re-thinking sisig. I made a more typical recipe of sisig in a much earlier post; here, but frankly, I wasn’t too keen on it. And I don’t order sisig at restaurants as it is bound to conjure up unpleasant visuals such as earwax if the place isn’t meticuous about how they prepare the dish. But I thought I would attempt a sisig made out of a whole cooked lechon head so I wouldn’t have to do the boiling, grilling and frying version. Well, let me tell you, this was a STUNNING example of the dish. BUT SUPERB…
The first somewhat grizzly sounding task was to take apart the whole lechon head. I have always loved Italian guanciale, a fattier type of bacon or cured meat made from the cheeks of a pig, so I thought I would start by removing the meaty cheeks. They were stunning. And delicious on their own. Slowly, with the help of the cook, we quite literally took the head apart and ended up with two huge bowls of skin, ears, snout, cheeks, etc, which we had chopped up into small pieces with a cleaver or a sampaloc chopping block. The amount of meat, skin and cartilage we managed to extract from the lechon’s head was incredible, perhaps 10-12 cups worth!
Version I of this sisig experiment started by turning the heat on full blast under the biggest cast iron pan we had in the house. After about 5 minutes on the flames, the pan should be very hot. Add about a tablespoon of oil, then about 1-2 tablespoons of ginger, two chopped onions or so (adjust amount to your liking, but you need a lot), several cloves of garlic, chopped, several siling mahaba chopped up (I used 8 pieces for 5 cups of meat) and saute for 2-3 minutes to soften the veggies, add the chopped lechon and let this sizzle and crack for a while. Don’t make too much at the same time as it may stew with all of the moisture in the pan. When all liquid has evaporated and the stuff is sounding like it is frying, add the juice of several kalamansi, several tablespoons of native vinegar to taste, and I added a couple of tablespoons of kikkoman soy sauce and salt and cracked black pepper to taste. Keep stirring to prevent this from sticking to the pan. You guauge how brown you want it to get, I found, a fairly dark brown was quite yummy, almost like adobo flakes but with texture.
If at home, serve this directly from the hot cast iron pan, with a case or so of ice cold beer and some fresh chicharon on the side. :) You can also transfer this to a serving dish and serve hot. Have extra kalamansi on the side to kill any overly fatty mouthfeel. The taste? A “slam-dunk, omigod, that was terrific dish!!!” I kid you not. If you have been unsure or squeamish about sisig before, try this easy version. It is rich without being overly rich. It has flavor from the slowly roasted pig. It has skin, meat, cartilage, for all the right textures. You can make it as spicy as you want, but if you balance the spice with saltiness and fat, it is utterly superb. I realize this is typically served as a pulutan or appetizer, but this was excellent with a huge pile of freshly boiled rice!
Thrilled with the results of the first batch, I immediately put the cast iron pan back on the heat and when it was sufficiently hot, I started a second batch. Before cooking sisig this time around, I looked up as many recipes as I could find, and I was intrigued by suggestions of how to make it more “creamy,” apparently a desired attribute of this dish to some connoisseurs. I also wanted a smoking hot (spicy) version as someone told me this is how it is made in Pampanga. So instead of siling mahaba, I chopped up 8-10 siling labuyo and used that instead. I also added about 4 tablespoons of chopped ripe pineapple for a different source of acid and a touch of sweetness. Then before finishing the dish off, I added two tablespoons of mayonnaise and at the last second, a raw egg that was mixed in with the rest of the ingredients.
This second version was definitely creamier and richer on the palate. It was good, but definitely not as good as version I. To me, the ideal version might be the first one made with siling labuyo instead of siling mahaba if you like spice as I do. The second version was a bit muddled, just too much going on for me. I am allergic to pineapple (my only known allergy) so I only ate a little bit of this dish, but I definitely liked the first batch better. At any rate, both versions were a total hit, everyone in the house ate far more than they should have! And we probably have to eat steamed vegetables for a whole week just to compensate for the fat… Yum!