pork belly

This past weekend was probably one of our last opportunities to grill in nice weather – it was a cool 45F outside, just enough to require my jacket and a careful eye on my charcoal. I’ll likely grill through the winter, but I figured now would be a good time to share this recipe for Inihaw na Liempo (Filipino Grilled Pork Belly).

Pork has a long history in Filipino cuisine; the Tagalog word for pig, baboy, is likely derived from the Indo-Malay babi/bayi, indicating that pork spread to the Philippine archipelago alongside its early inhabitants. For reference, there is evidence of humans living in the Philippines some 67,000 years ago, but they were likely displaced by several other arriving groups until about 6,000 years ago, when Malayo-Polynesians first arrived from East Asia. There is no perfect way to determine whether the pigs are an ancient member of the archipelago, but the fact that pigs have cultural significance on the islands is a good indication; for example, the seafaring Sama-Bajau, an ethnic group who live mostly in the Southern Philippines, used simple pig-shaped constellation clusters to navigate prior to the arrival of Europeans and their more advanced navigational methods.

Inihaw na Liempo is a more modern preparation of pork belly, using ingredients with both short and long histories in the Philippines. Many recipes today call for banana ketchup, which was a replacement for tomato ketchup invented during tomato shortages in World War II. Intrigued by the idea, I decided to mash a couple bananas into my marinade, and was pleasantly surprised by the fruity notes that complemented the crispy pork belly. Just be sure to keep a watchful eye on the grill – the natural sugars in the banana tend to encourage browning. For that reason, I like to slice my pork belly relatively thin, at 1/2″, to ensure the pork cooks through before getting too browned (plus, thinner slices = more crispy surface texture).

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As I mentioned in my Chicken in Champagne Sauce recipe earlier this year, I draw inspiration from many sources – online research, reader requests, or from friends. Today’s recipe is inspired by a reader’s recent tip, left in a comment from the Nakkikastike (Finnish Hot Dogs in Sauce) recipe I shared a couple years back.

Like Nakkikastike, Tirripaisti is a staple Finnish comfort food – not quite haute cuisine, but something to warm the belly in all the right ways. In researching the recipe, I found there were two general methods to prepare this dish in Finland; some simply season the pork belly and fry it up as you would bacon, while others insist the pork should be sauteed with onion, then simmered in water to make a sort of gravy. I’ve provided recipes for each preparation – they’re both super easy.

In most cases, Tirripaisti is served with boiled and mashed potatoes (or sometimes boiled turnips) and a vegetable of some kind – like pickled beets or roasted veggies.

If you have any recipe development requests, I’m all ears – feel free to leave them in the comments below. Bear in mind that between this site and my two cookbooks, I’ve covered over 600 recipes, so chances are I’ve already tackled many that you’re looking for! Here are the recipe lists for The Ancestral Table and Paleo Takeout.

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This past weekend I competed in a bacon cook-off fundraiser, entitled Baconpalooza, which was hosted by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. The contest was part of an entire weekend of events, which included a tour of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm and nutrition talks and cooking demos by Robb Wolf and Jenny McGruther. My competition was very stiff during the cook-off, with many imaginative and delicious entries trying to woo the sold-out crowd of 250 voters.

I’m happy to say that I was the winner of the cook-off! I thought it would be neat to share the recipe of my winning dish so you can recreate it at home.

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