23 August 2010

Ode To The Pig

I love the Pig.  I think that no other creature that has walked the face of the earth can  ever be more gastronomically perfect than him.    I really, really do.  And that is saying a lot because as a gastronaut of sorts, I have a very wide and open-minded palate and therefore find joy and contentment in eating a plethora of things.  However, a perfectly cooked pig for me is like the absolution of sin, an experience both captivating and liberating in the same breath. I'm quite sure some of you may argue that some other animal is much worth the kind of admiration and adulation that I am doling out in this entry and I would completely understand my friends who belong to sects that forbid the consumption of pork, but to all others, please bear with me and hear the reasons for my love for the beast known as Pig. 

True that the Toulouse Goose (which gives us foie gras d'oie) or the Tajima breed of Japanese cows  (which give us our prized Wagyu steaks) are prime examples of beasts also worth putting atop a pedestal.  Oh and please don't get me wrong, I love both as much as the next carnivore and would not completely discount trading in my first born for an eat all you can foie gras and wagyu buffet. But may I just point out the fact that the sublime tastes and textures from these animals  are not congenital as they require much manipulation from man.  And don't get me wrong again, I am not against such manipulations (sorry PETA friends, I can only be me) because it is precisely because of these shenanigans that I am able to experience the smoothness, silkiness and creaminess that  I can only describe as the world's best savory milk chocolate (if there was ever such a thing) that is foie gras.  Similarly, Tajima breed of cows were not born with the most perfect marbling one can imagine that it might just as well be marbled by design.  This of course as we all know is the result of the cows staying put forever  in one place coupled with endless sessions of daily massages to the tune of classical ambient music add to that the perfunctory gulping down of at least 40 liters of beer and/or sake a day. And because of these accoutrements, the resulting cost for both foie gras and wagyu is much too steep for your average Joe, Kim, Pierre, Pedro to pay for.  In fact  our very own Juan here may never even see the top of the tin of worst grade canned foie gras there is for as long as he shall live.  These simply cannot be food for every man.  

What about seafood you may ask?  The thing with seafood is this, no matter how much of it I eat, I never get full.  I always find myself saying, "Boy that was a good, light lunch" after a seafood meal and it makes me feel like I was being good and healthy, which more often than not I'm not.  But two hours later I'm at a McDonald's drive through ordering a quarter pounder with cheese and a side of fries.  I don't ever get that feeling of fullness  and ultimately satisfaction from seafood though I love, love, love eating them.  Our Dad used to farm prawns and crabs in our province Bulacan and I'm telling you I can eat those babies by the kilo on my own. Also, if you didn't farm them like we did, the price is a bit prohibitive too.  Not as much as foie gras and wagyu, but prohibitive just the same which is compounded by the fact that you need to eat more of it to feel satisfied.  

And no I did not forget about chicken and other birds.  To borrow the words of Simon Cowell, if I'm being honest with you, I'm not a  huge fan.  If a chicken sang in front of me I would probably say something like "Please go back into your shell and develop some more." In fact, I think that the best thing that ever happened to chicken is KFC.  (Kids may argue and vote for Chicken Joy, but kids don't read this do they?) Yes I do make a pretty good version of curry, but if I had a craving for chicken-- which is not so very often, curry would not be on top of my list.  KFC more often than not does the trick.  In fact, come to think of it.  My cravings were not for chicken but for KFC chicken.  So no, my vote does not go to our feathered friends.  Sorry.

Which brings us back to our lowly yet lovely and affable Pig. You don't have to have Kurobota to enjoy it's meat.  It doesn't cost an arm and a leg to purchase and is readily available in your local butcher or market.  You could fry, roast, stew, braise or grill it.  You could bread it, dry it, grind it, smoke it or make it into sausages.  Every single part of the animal can be used and prepared in ways that would warm your bellies with a happy fullness and satisfaction sans the heaviness that the meat of cows bring.  It takes very simple ingredients and methods to make a memorable meal out of your common pig.  

Case in point is this recipe for my Oven-Crisped Lechon Belly.  It is a humble recipe that needs nothing more than three ingredients, a well chosen pork belly included.  It is an easy, foolproof (even for the hardened kitchen offenders) spatterless method that will consistently give you beautifully blistered, crunchy skin and juicy tender meat  glistening and basking in the glory of it's own rendered fat.  It will earn ooh, aaahs, hugs, kisses and more than that. 

My Oven-Crisped Lechon Belly   

1 Kilo Pork Belly, Skin-on/Bone-in
2 Tablespoons Rock Salt
Enough water to cover
  1. Clean pork belly. 
  2. Boil in water with salt until tender but not falling off the bone (around 40 mins.) 
  3. Drain whole pork belly and cool in a dry place. 
  4. Prick skin all over with a steel brush ( I bought mine in Divisoria.  It looks like a toothbrush with pins for bristles.)
  5. Put in a roasting rack and roast at 300 degrees until skin has perfectly blistered, usually another 40 minutes
If you want to roast a bigger belly, you may do so but as always, do adjust the salt and time of cooking.  This is a very basic recipe so you can experiment by trying to put stuff in the boiling liquid like lemongrass, onions, black pepper, star anise.  The result is somewhat similar to the flavor of Lechon Cebu.  But whatever you choose to add, don't add sugar as this will ultimately affect the crispiness of the skin. 

Like I said, I love the Pig.  I think maybe that after all the evil that escaped from Pandora's box, it was a little Pig and not Hope that was left in it,  speaking in it's wee voice a message from Dionysius himself and thereby bringing back  hope and everything that was good and worth living for in the world.  And even if that isn't accurate Greek mythology, I am sure that one bite from this recipe will have you call out the names of the gods in honest gratitude for letting such a beast escape from the heavens to grace our many tables here on earth.