The fact that most of my blog posts reveal my proclivity with pork could be a cause for concern. Could be. I do miss the days when I’d have most of the morning or the afternoon to myself, the kitchen in a total frenzy, and the smell of freshly baked bread, or even cupcakes filling up my nostrils. It’s been a while. Maybe a self-imposed exile from posting anything purely pork would do me (and my arteries) some good.
But for today, since I do have to post this, I’m going to be indulgent. Pork punctuates my idea of a Filipino celebration. That’s relative and subjective, of course, since there are Filipinos who don’t eat pork. But from my neck of the woods, lechon spells something grand, estofado means a day is special, dinuguan implies a prelude to lechon, and so forth. It’s only fitting that since this month’s Kulinarya Club theme is a meal fit for a celebration (during a fiesta or Santacruzan), it has to be something made with pork.
It worried me that I couldn’t really think of anything regional in time for the reveal date. I was supposed to go for Arroz Valenciana, a cousin of the paella and bringhe, except that it doesn’t use annatto seeds (paella) or turmeric (bringhe) for color. But time was limited and I couldn’t get my grandmother to teach me since she thinks herself busy.
Improvisation works, because I did manage to whip up something festive that doesn’t need a lot of preparation. During fiestas in our house, preparations are physically taxing. Any dish that can be baked is a winner in my book, and when I thought about making pork binagoongan, it just made sense.
Pork Binagoongan, a dish where pork is cooked with salty bagoong gata (shrimp paste coconut milk) and tomatoes, isn’t really a typical dish found at the table during our fiestas. It’s comfort food, more than anything. But I couldn’t get it out of my head and I knew I was on to something.
The flavor comes from the marinade, which has bagoong gata in it. You might want to add more of the bagoong if you want a full-bodied taste, not just a hint. I have to admit that I might have scrimped on the bagoong a tiny bit, because I didn’t want it too salty, but in the end I realized that I needed to be generous with the marinade. Also, letting it marinate overnight is key. The taste of oven-roasted tomatoes is really something else, and since binagoongan usually has tomatoes, it was the best of both worlds. Tomatoes and basil also go well together…and well, it was the icing on the cake. Baked pork is also a treat in itself, with perfectly tender meat with fat that almost melts in your mouth.
Baked Binagoongan (serves 4)
- 1 kg pork belly (OR 1 kg chicken legs and thighs)
- 10 medium-sized tomatoes, quartered
- 8 – 10 (slightly) heaping tablespoons bagoong gata (shrimp paste with coconut milk)*
- 1 whole garlic head, roughly chopped
- 5 – 10 fresh sweet basil leaves, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup white cane vinegar
- a dash of salt
- freshly cracked pepper, to taste
- In a bowl large enough to hold the pork, combine the marinade ingredients. Add the pork and allow to marinate for at least an hour, preferably overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 220 C. When ready to bake, carefully add the tomatoes to the marinade and lightly toss to coat them.
- Arrange the pork in a roasting pan, preferably with a rack. Arrange the tomatoes along the sides of the pan and a few on top of the pork. Bake for 1 hour – 1 hour and 10 minutes. After around 40 minutes of baking, turn it halfway. Bake until done.
- Slice the pork into bite-sized pieces and serve warm with rice and possibly, more bagoong. Enjoy!