Until just hours ago, I had never made lechon sauce or pork liver sauce from scratch. My mom definitely used to do it at home and I do remember it being a bit “chunkier” than modern bottled sauces, but I don’t really recall much of her approach to making the sauce. But APM’s, Apicio’s and Sister’s comments in a recent post on lechon # 5 made it sound like it was so easy to do… So I decided to cook up several versions and see for myself… Of course the real driving force to nail a decent lechon sauce is related to the upcoming Lechon Eyeball in Cebu, even though Cebuanos traditionally would scoff at anyone putting a liver sauce near one of their lechons. The thought is, and I agree with it, that Cebuano lechons are flavorful enough on their own and do not require a liver sauce to accompany the meat.
It sounded odd to me, but if it appears in an Enriqueta David-Perez recipe book, it’s at least worth a try… so the first version of lechon sauce that I made used this oddly familiar can of Reno Brand Liver Spread. I don’t know why it is familiar to me, I have never used one before, so I am thinking it had a very memorable advertising campaign and the name has somehow stuck in my subconscious. In a small bowl, I added the contents of one small can of Reno liver spread, 1/3 cup cider vinegar, 1 and 1/2 cups of water, 1/3 cup of toasted breadcrumbs, 1/3 cup of Muscovado sugar about 1.5 teaspoons of salt (or to taste) and lots of freshly ground black pepper and stir until blended. In a saucepan, heat up some vegetable oil and saute about 8 cloves of garlic finely chopped until a light golden brown and add about several chopped shallots or approximately 2 tablespoons of chopped white onions. Stir until the onion is soft and after several minutes, add the liver liquid mixture and stir over low heat until you reach the desired consistency. Don’t make it too thick, it continues to thicken as it cools.
The resulting sauce, photo above, in the bowl at the left, was quick delicious! It tasted more homemade than the bottled Mang Tomas and it had a nice texture. I thought it may have had a tad more breadcrumbs than I would have liked but it was easy and tasty. I stuck some of this lechon sauce in a food processor and blitzed it for a few seconds and that is the sauce in the bowl at right, above. It looked a bit pale, but it tasted pretty good. And I am not sure why the blitzing would change the flavor of the same ingredients as the first lechon sauce, but I think everything got much better blended together. I liked the chunky version as it screamed homemade, but I can see why folks like the sanitized looking smoother version on the right. This sauce would probably get an 8.0/10.0 for either variation. The recipe would probably serve 8 people or so.
Emboldened by the canned liver spread sauce, I next turned to a freshly purchased HUMONGOUS pork liver weighing in at 1.5 kilos and of which I used just 100 grams or so eventually. I cut a piece that was roughly 500 grams and grilled it over a charcoal flame until a bit charred and just pink inside. This was then blitzed and it resulted in perhpas 1/2 – 3/4 cup of liver paste. The charred bits resulted in little bits of black in the liver spread. And I have to say, the liver was PUNGENT. I then sauteed some onions and garlic, used Apicio’s proportions for the muscovado and vinegar, added some water and breadcrumbs, a couple of tablespoons of freshly blitzed liver, salt and pepper and stirred this over low heat until it thickened up a bit.
This version was darker than the canned version, and it looked and smelled as authentic as it gets. I blitzed this one too, for a shorter period, and it resulted in a smoother sauce but still possessing the unmistakable hint of freshly grilled pork liver. This was good and would rate an 8.5/10.0 at least. About 100 grams of liver would make enough sauce for 8 people or so. Of course people typically make lots of extra sauce so that they can use it in the next day’s lechon paksiw as well…
Finally, I took out some Mang Tomas from a bottle in the refrigerator, and it was now clearly the commercial manufactured relative of the first two sauces I made. The bottled sauce was smoother, sweeter and with more modulated flavors. It has modified starch and preservatives added and probably didn’t use cider vinegar or muscovado, and while good, it just didn’t seem as good as the versions made from scratch. Now that I think about improvements to the recipe, I wonder what it would taste like if I used pancetta or guanciale fat to saute the onions and garlic in, or added a lot more black pepper, or even thrown in a chili or two… hmmm, I think I need one more session of lechon sauce recipes before I am ready for the eyeball… This is definitely all about balance, and you need to taste this several times as you cook it up. And I know, Cebuanos will raise their noses if I put liver sauce on the table at the eyeball… but I might do it just to see if it really does a disservice to a Cebuano lechon. Now I better remember to make a couple of bottles of homemade Marketman acharra to cut the richness of all that lechon skin and fat!