Tocino: Filipino Ham

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

FILIPINOS have always loved heavy breakfasts. This why we have a variety of “sinangag” dishes.

Sinangag is simply fried rice with garlic. Long ago, eateries and local restaurants would serve garlic-fried rice with an egg (itlog) and something savory.

Longganisa (garlicky Filipino sausage) served with fried rice and egg would be shortened into an order called “Longsilong”. ‘Long’ for the longganisa, ‘si’ for the sinangag and ‘log’ for the egg. Serve it with Tapa (cured beefstrips) it becomes “Tapsilog”. Change it to Ham, it becomes “Hamsilog”. But there’s one –silog that is a favorite of man, the Tocilog. It’s Tocino (Filipino sweet-cured pork) with garlic-fried rice and sunny-side up egg. I’m getting hungry just typing this.


Tocino is simply pork fatback, a cut of pork that has under the skin of the back, with or without the skin. This is not pork belly, you are not making bacon.

Tocino is not cured either but a well-seasoned breakfast viand that combines the sweetness of sugar with savory salty goodness. The pork is cut into thin strips with some fat attached to the pork meat. This is essential because the fat becomes caramelized when you fry the tocino and becomes a wonderful sensation in the mouth.

Here’s the recipe for tocino, for those who want to fix their own at home.

1 kilo pork meat, preferably pork fatback
1 tablespoon of achuete seeds
4 tablespoons of hot water
2 tablespoon of salt
4 tablespoon of sugar
1/8 teaspoon of salitre (saltpeter)

Cut the pork into thin strips, about ¼ inches thick.

In a small bowl, add the achuete seeds and hot water and let it steep for 10 minutes. Rub the seeds together in the water to extract the color.

Strain the seeds out of the water and throw them away.

In a large bowl, combine the pork, salt, sugar, salitre and achuete water together. Make sure that the pork is thoroughly coated with the marinade.

Transfer the marinated pork in an airtight container and let this sit overnight. If you can’t wait that long, 4 hours is enough to marinate it.

After marinating, the tocino is ready to be cooked. You can make bigger batches and just package it in smaller packs and freeze it for future use. Remember to marinate it for 4 hours before freezing.

How to cook Tocino

Now there is a proper way to cook Tocino. No, you just don’t fry it. You need to get a thick, heavy bottom pan and preferably a steel skillet and not Teflon-coated. I will explain why later.

Take the pan, add about ½ cup water and place the tocino strips in the water. Turn on the heat and let it boil and then simmer until the water evaporates.

If you have enough fat in the pork, you won’t need to add oil.
But if you see there is hardly any oil in the pan after the water has evaporated, add about 1-2 tablespoons of oil.

With a low heat, fry the tocino slices in the pan, moving the pieces constantly. If you don’t move the pork pieces, they will burn. The sugar will start to caramelize and if you scrape the pork against the bottom of the pan, it will stick to the pork and not to the pan. The tocino is done when the edges start to get crispy and dark brown.

If you use a Teflon pan and burn the sugar from the tocino, it is a pain in the behind to clean it. Trust me.

How to serve Tocino for breakfast

Get a cup of garlic-fried rice and place this on a plate. Add tocino slices on one side of the mound of rice and on the other side, add a fried egg. The egg can be sunny-side up or cooked over-easy (the yolk is set but not mixed with the white). Serve hot and watch your family gobble it up.

This breakfast dish can be served anytime. My eldest son always ask for this for dinner (and as a midnight snack) when he knows I have some stored in the fridge.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on June 11, 2011.


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