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Chicharon, the new star

Oh. My. Lard! Welcome the chicharon-studded menu at Raffles

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Images by Noel B. Pabalate

The growing popularity of Filipino cuisine is undeniable, with the New York Times dedicating two whole pages to Pinoy food and more international celebrity chefs touring our islands and barrios in search of unique recipes and ingredients. In the meantime, Manila-based hotel chefs frequent remote villages and public markets in search of culinary customs and traditions to improve their kitchen repertoire.

We saw and tasted the result of these developments at a special French lunch to welcome Raffles Makati’s chef de cuisine Hervé Clair, whose fascination with crispy pork rind resulted in innovative French dishes utilizing chicharon he made himself in the Raffles kitchen.

  • SMOOTH AND CRISP: Chicharon lover French chef Hervé Clair

  • SMOOTH AND CRISP: and crispy-skinned pork belly

  • CHICHARON-STUDDED From top: French-style octopus; Pan-seared salmon with spinach; and a huge cream puff ice cream studded with chicharon bits

    The Raffles chicharon is crumbly and greaseless, with a centimeter of fat attached just like the famous chicharon from Bulacan. Deliberately served without a vinegar dip, the chicharon was savored and appreciated for all its nuances. It took a lot of will power to stop ourselves from asking for more.

    PORK BELLY CONFIT – Chicharon in another guise was the meat course—crispy pork belly with flesh and fat so tender it could be spread on bread with a dull butter knife. Which we did, and we were rewarded with a wonderful explosion of flavor. With every flavorful bite, we were trying to figure out what cooking technique the chef used—sous vide or confit.

    Sous vide is the new culinary rage, a cooking method in which seasoned meat is vacuum-packed and immersed in a temperature-controlled water bath for many hours to cook, tenderize, and season.

    Confit, on the other hand, involves many hours of simmering at low temperature in the meat’s own fat, as done in the classic French dish duck onfit.

    As to the crisp skin, our guess was the chef’s torch, another kitchen tool previously used mainly by kitchen pros but now is within reach of serious but non-professional gourmands.

    CHICHARON-STUDDED DESSERT – Bacon is the new vanilla, observed a few food critics, who point out how good chocolate-covered bacon could be. During the media lunch, we discovered that chicharon could stand in for bacon in some desserts.

    To end the meal, we had the biggest cream puffs we have ever seen. Called bunuelos by the generations before us, the puffs were the size of a grown man’s fist and filled with citrus-scented ice cream with a light sprinkling of crumbled chicharon. The cold ice cream was just sweet enough to balance the chicharon’s saltiness. The crisp and airy puffs absorbed the melting cream. It was a beautiful experience.

    Everyone at our table engaged in animated conversation, our minds awakened to all the possibilities of incorporating chicharon in family-style meals, thanks to an experienced French chef who’s bold enough to tread unchartered culinary waters. Bravo, Chef Hervé Clair!

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