These grilled pork barbecue skewers define nearly every Filipino party. There has never been a time when guests refused these char-grilled pork bits on bamboo skewers. Whether I’m here in the States or back in the Philippines, when these pork BBQ sticks are served, they are gone in a few minutes. Guests dive for it quickly. Nothing is left. The slightly burnt, empty bamboo sticks are seen laying vacantly on finished dishes, probably right next to leftover tendrils of pancit (noodle dish) or strays of a lumpia wrapper (vegetable wraps). This is the typical scene at any Filipino-hosted party.
Pork barbecue on sticks are actually street food in the Philippines. You will find it in a lot of street corners, the succulent dark pork grilling on a make-shift outdoor grill. Often it is sold by the piece or by the bundle. It is extremely affordable, too. If you follow the addictive aroma of char-grilling pork, the scent and the smoke swaying in the warm winds, then you will not be able to resist buying a few sticks or even a large bundle. It is served as ‘pulutan’ (say “pooh-loo-tan”) which translates to appetizers served with beer or else can stand alone as an entrée served with sides. Each pork barbecue piece is thinly sliced in square inches but is packed with layers of flavors. With each bite, one can savor the sweet, savory and spicy all at once. The more you eat it, the more you’ll want it again and again.
Here in the States, once Memorial Day weekend starts, it’s time for us to take off the covers of the outdoor grill and start cooking. In preparation, I pre-marinate the pork shoulder pieces ahead of time, keep them in a plastic container and freeze it till we are ready to fire up the grill.
I won’t keep you too long on this blog post. You shouldn’t keep these pork barbecue skewers waiting. Brush on the marinade now. Enjoy the whiff of the calamansi and soy sauce seeping through the pieces. Watch the succulent pork slices transform into dark, glazed morsels. Gather the family and friends. These sticks go fast. Take my word. So don’t forget to save some for yourself, the grill master.
These grilled pork barbecue, Filipino-style are a favorite every time we have a party or I bring it to friends. What makes these hard to resist is the basic marinade which has all the essential flavors and aromatics typical in Filipino dishes. Every stick of pork has combined flavors of the sweet, savory and spicy. This recipe was from a previous AsianInAmericamag.com blogpost. The recipe below makes about 12 to 14 sticks. Double or triple the amount if you’re having company. You’ll be glad I warned you.
- pork shoulder or pork belly - 2 pounds, slice in 1-inch cuts, ready to skewer
- garlic - 1 teaspoon, finely minced
- soy sauce - 1/2 cup
- calamansi juice (the Filipino lime) - 1/4 cup, frozen calamansi concentrate, or use fresh (from Asian markets) or use fresh lemons
- banana catsup - 1/2 cup, from Asian markets (or use tomato catsup)
- ginger ale - 8 ounces or 1 can (or use 7-Up or Sprite)
- brown sugar - 1/2 cup
- sea salt - 1 teaspoon
- freshly ground black pepper powder - 1 teaspoon
- bamboo skewers - 12 to 14, pre-soak for 20 minutes before placing skewered meat
- Mix the marinade ingredients together in a bowl : minced garlic, soy sauce, calamansi juice (or use lemon), banana catsup (or use tomato catsup), half of the ginger ale, salt, black pepper. Leave ½ cup of the marinade plus the sugar, aside for the grilling glaze. Pour the rest of the marinade over the pork. Keep in a non-reactive container. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the pork overnight.
- The next day, pre-soak the bamboo skewers in water for about 20 minutes. Then skewer the pork pieces into each bamboo stick, allowing approximately 6 to 7 pieces on each one.
- Pre-heat the outdoor barbecue grill to a medium high heat. Get ready with the grilling glaze set aside from the day before, add the sugar and remaining ginger ale. Grill the barbecued pork, about 12 minutes on each side while rotating the skewers. Total grilling time should take about 30 minutes. Baste the pork barbecue every few minutes so that it gets moist and shiny.
- When cooked, serve hot on long platters and garnish with tomatoes, cucumbers and green pickled mangoes or some "achara", green papaya pickle relish.
Cook's Comments: I always add the sugar ingredient in the marinade or glaze just before grilling the meat. This way, the sugar does not crystallize or stay too long on the pork cuts which causes the barbecued meat to harden.
Add a spicy note: if you want to make the marinade spicy add a teaspoon or two of sriracha sauce or else 1 to 2 bird's eye chilies ('siling labuyo' in the Philippines). Mix and marinate according to directions above. This is an optional way to add spicy flavors to the pork barbecue. When there are little children around, I turn down the spice level and omit the spicy ingredients.
*Recipe Notes: Filipino banana catsup can be found in Asian groceries in the Philippine aisle, or else at online Asian groceries. If you have time, there are recipes for homemade banana catsup. But if you prefer, substitute tomato catsup in this recipe and the results are just as good.
*Cooking Indoors: In the winter months, we shut down the outdoor grill for safety reasons. But this does not stop us from enjoying our Filipino barbecue. To cook indoors, thread the pork slices in pre-soaked bamboo skewers as directed above. Preheat the oven at 375 F degrees. Grease and prepare a shallow baking pan, measuring approximately 9 x 13 inches with a height of not more than 2 inches. Place the grill rack over the shallow pan, which has the horizontal slots across it. Grease the entire grill rack. Place the skewered pork pieces on the grill rack. Position the shallow pan in the center of the oven. Roast in the oven 375 F degrees for 30 minutes, basting occasionally so it has a shiny glaze.
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