Inspired by our favorite dish at Boy Ching Woo, one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in the Philippines. It was within walking distance of the house where I grew up. I didn’t realize how much I missed lechon con tokwa until I moved with my own family to the suburb. That was when I started deconstructing the dish to come up with my version.
What makes the dish so memorable? I assure you it isn’t just nostalgia. I am not that kind of person. I ate plenty of bad food as a child and I don’t yearn for them. I have exerted a lot effort to recreate this dish because it is beyond good. A sticky sauce that’s sweet, sour and a bit spicy coats the crispy pork belly and deep fried tofu. But flavor is not everything in this dish. It’s the texture that really captures the imagination.
Does the pork skin stay crisp after being tossed in the sauce? Yes, if you serve the dish immediately. But if you allow the pork to simmer in the sauce, even as the skin loses its wonderful crispness, you get something else in return. The puffy skin turns chewy in an indescribable way. That was how the dish was served at Boy Ching Woo.
Here at home, however, with my husband’s obsession with crispy pork skin, I toss the crispy pork belly cubes in the sauce just long enough to coat them. Then, I serve the dish as soon as it’s off the stove.
It’s not a complicated dish to prepare at home. But because there are several components, you have to plan and time everything so that the pork skin is still at its prime by the time the meat is tossed into the sauce.
Start by cooking the pork because that’s the part that takes the longest. Simmer a slab of pork belly in heavily seasoned water until the meat is so tender it easily separates from the bone. Then, air fry the pork belly until the skin is puffed and crispy.
While the crispy pork belly rests to allow the juices to settle, prepare the rest of the components for the dish.
Cut a cake of firm tofu into thick slices, deep fry then cut into cubes. Make the sauce by mixing soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, toban-dyan and water with tapioca starch.
Saute sliced shallots, garlic and ginger until softened and aromatic then add the tofu cubes and toss until heated through.
Pour in the sauce and stir until thick and no longer cloudy. While the tofu soaks in the sauce to absorb the flavors, cut the the pork belly into cubes then toss into the simmering sauce.
Lechon con tokwa
- 1 cake firm tofu about 300 grams in weight
- cooking oil for deep frying
- 2 shallots peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 one-inch knob ginger peeled and grated
- 2 teaspoons toban-dyan (available in Asian groceries)
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon tapioca starch
- crispy pork belly (one kilogram in weight before cooking) cut into two-inch cubes
- Press the tofu between stacks of paper towels to remove excess moisture.
- Cut the tofu into slices about an inch thick.
- Heat enough cooking oil in a frying pan to reach a depth of two inches.
- Deep fry the tofu slices until golden and crisp.
- Cut the fried tofu into cubes.
- Pour off the oil from the pan leaving only about two tablespoonfuls.
- Saute the shallots, garlic and ginger until softened and aromatic.
- Add the tofu cubes and cook, tossing, until heated through.
- Into one cup of water, stir in the toban-dyan, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and starch.
- Pour the sauce into the pan and cook, stirring, until thick and no longer cloudy.
- Add the crispy pork belly and toss a few times until each piece is coated with sauce.
- Serve your lechon con tokwa immediately.