Crispy deliciousness with every bite of this tender, juicy and tasty pork belly! NO NEED to deep-fry and soak up meat with a lot of oil just to come up with a crispy, crackly uber-tasty pork belly as it’s cooked in the air fryer! Step-by-step instructions with notes to ensure success included in the recipe.
Even before pork belly became trendy in the west, we’ve been eating and cooking this delicious piece of meat since time immemorial!
From the time I was small until now, we’ve always cooked and enjoyed some pork belly from one dish to another! I think pork is very popular in the Philippines because it’s the cheaper cut of meat. Also, you don’t need a lot of it to impart flavor to a dish. In fact, because of its high-fat content (that means yumminess!), a small piece goes a long way. A half-pound or less of sliced pork belly when fried or sauteed adds not only extra protein to a dish but that savory flavoring that makes you want to eat more of it.
To name a few dishes, it’s indispensable in making ginisa (Filipino stir-fry or saute) with vegetables such as long beans, chayote, squash, cabbage and even for mung bean soup! Pancit canton won’t be so yummy without a few fried pieces of pork belly.
Larger chunks of pork belly are likewise indispensable for making pork adobo, mechado, lechon kawali, pork barbecue, inihaw na liempo, and the list goes on and on. Don’t forget that Bicol express won’t be Bicol Express without some pork belly.
Likewise, because pork belly already has more than enough stored fat in it, you actually don’t need extra grease or oil to cook with it. You can cook it in its own fat – much like bacon (which incidentally comes from a slab of pork belly!). Need I say more?
To say that it is our favorite meat is almost an understatement!
I have made a few attempts at making pork belly in the air fryer. I am glad to report that I think I finally found the exact recipe for it that I’ve tried and tested and has met all our requirements for the perfect pork belly.
No deep-frying in oil. Check.
Crackly and crunchy skin. Check.
Tender and juicy meat. Check.
Tasty and not bland meat. Check!
Yes, this Easy Air Fryer Crispy Pork Belly Recipe (Lechon Kawali) is all that!
Some helpful NOTES & TIPS on making TASTY AIR FRYER PORK BELLY (FILIPINO LECHON KAWALI)
DO YOU PRE-COOK THE PORK BEFORE AIR FRYING?
Yes. The pork is boiled or simmered with seasonings before air-frying. The air-fryer, much like the deep oil fryer, serves as a vehicle to brown the pork and make it crispy, crackly and delicious! Pre-cooking ensures that the pork is already thoroughly cooked so there’s no guesswork involved later on. Also, simmering the pork in seasoned water already adds flavor to the meat so it won’t come out bland and tasteless.
Some people simply boil the pork for 45 minutes to 1 hour (no simmer but a continuous rolling boil). You may do this as a shortcut but watch out for the water level that it doesn’t get low and only stop boiling once the pork is already tender. I am more into the slower method of simmering because I find the meat absorbs more of the flavor of the seasoned water so the meat doesn’t need extra salt afterward.
WHAT SALT DO I USE TO SEASON THE PORK BELLY?
Very important question. Do not use fine table salt especially on the skin of the pork. Since you are either poking holes or scoring meat, the fine salt may seep into these crevices and may make it too salty. Coarse salt is better because it’s bigger in size so that won’t be a problem. Also, the crackling skin is formed more by using coarse salt (makes the skin pop) rather than fine salt.
IS CHILLING OR REFRIGERATING THE PORK BELLY AFTER IT’S BEEN BOILED REALLY NECESSARY?
To chill or not to chill? My mother always chilled her lechon kawali in the refrigerator before frying and that always came out crispy. So I followed my mother’s advice on this.
Some say it’s not needed but I have yet to try frying the pork without chilling and drying it out in the refrigerator. I am bound to cook pork belly again soon as it’s a family favorite so watch this space for my verdict on that! I will let you know if that makes a difference at all.
What are you waiting for? Grab some pork belly now and make it for yourself and your loved ones!
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Easy Air Fryer Crispy Pork Belly Recipe (Filipino Lechon Kawali)
FOR THE PORK BELLY
- 1.5 pounds pork belly
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon coarse salt
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- water, as needed
FOR THE SPICED SOY-VINEGAR DIPPING SAUCE
- 1/4 cup rice or white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce, adjust to taste
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 Thai red chillis, sliced (adjust heat level to taste)
FOR THE AIR FRYER PORK BELLY
- In a 2-qt saucepan, place the pork belly with the onion, garlic cloves, bayleaves, coarsely-grinded salt and soy sauce. Fill with enough water to completely cover or submerge the pork belly.
- Using medium heat, bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1-1/2 hours or until the meat is fork-tender. Add water as needed to ensure pork belly is submerged.
- Take the pork out of the saucepan and pat dry. Poke holes all over the fatty or skin side of the pork using a fork. (I sometimes simply score it, too.) Salt all over the fatty/skin area. Make sure to use only coarse salt or at least coarsely-grinded salt (salt passed through a grinder).
- Leave out to dry in the refrigerator overnight or at least 3-4 hours. You want to completely dry out the pork, if possible. The addition of salt on top helps dry it out, too. If there’s still some remaining moisture in the meat, simply dry it off with a paper towel.
- Allow the pork to come to room temperature for about half an hour before air frying.
- Preheat the air fryer to 400 F. Place the pork belly skin side up on the air fryer basket. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until browned all over and crispy to your liking. Check the pork belly after 20 minutes and flip to brown the other side, if needed.
- Let it set for 10 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute all over the meat and keep it moist. Slicing the meat right away would not only be messy but all that tasty juice would leave the meat and you don't want that. Your patience, should you wait, would be rewarded with tasty, juicy and tender meat!
- Slice into desired thickness (about 1/2 an inch for me usually is good). Serve with some sarsa (Filipino gravy) or a spice soy and vinegar dip. For the sarsa, I simply buy Mang Tomas brand for this because it is the typical lechon sauce and I don’t make it because the bottled variety is quite good. Dip each belly slice into the sauce before eating, if desired.
FOR THE SPICED SOY-VINEGAR DIPPING SAUCE
- Mix together the vinegar and soy sauce. There's no right or wrong measurement here. Simply adjust to the amount you want and based on your taste preference. Stir in the minced garlic and chilis. Serve with the pork belly.