There are several dishes that I simply have never mastered to the point that I was satisfied to write and publish a good recipe for it. White puto is one of those dishes, so is a classic Boholano torta with lard, pancit Malabon or palabok and for some reason, despite my obsession with pork, I am still struggling with that everyday street food classic, pork barbecue on a stick! We make and cook this dish at least 3x a year, often with great intentions, and multiple versions being experimented with simultaneously, but there is always something missing…
Maybe my ideal is just a figment of my imagination. I want meaty pieces of tender pork, balanced with a savory flavor or salt, a hint of sweetness and a bit of tang. I want the pork to be soft, but not artificially so, with crunchy bits of extremities charred while the rest of the meat is juicy and cooked just right. I do like the tradition of a piece of fat at the bottom of the stick, more because it is an excellent way to self-baste the barbecue as you lift and turn in on the grill.
I think we prefer the pork shoulder that is meaty and not too fatty (we have tried all liempo or belly ones that are just too oily), cut into thin slices and coated with a marinade that sits for an hour or two at most. I like the addition of a touch of baking soda, that seems to tenderize the meat just so, but fear having too much of it or leaving it on for too long results in overly “pulpy” meat. I suppose that’s why some opt for soda like 7Up instead. And I do like the skewers slathered in barbecue sauce or marinade. Personally, I love eating barbecue meat like this with a dipping sauce of vinegar and chili when consuming it with rice, but otherwise can work my way through several sticks as is for a protein laden snack… :)
The last time we “experimented” with barbecue, we made at least four versions, and the crew gamely exhibited streetside vendor flair with the basting, turning and salestalk to anyone watching. They all seemed giddy with excitement and commented that it all LOOKED fantastic. Truth be told, they were pretty darned good. But I still have this nagging feeling that I am missing something. Oh, and one of my secrets? Some good lard added to the basting sauce — for obvious reasons.
In the end, this was another good batch of barbecue, but it wasn’t “the slam-dunk OMG that is amazing barbecue!!”. Every time I go back and look at my archives and reader suggestions, I think to try something new the next time we have pork barbecue on the menu. But maybe I should just ask my dentist (and his partners) that bought Aling Nene’s barbecue (the famous one on the south super highway) last year for some expert tips. :)