Tocino is Spanish for bacon. And in the Philippines it’s the synonym for the most unbelievable pork dish.
What is pork tocino?
Pork tocino is a sweet cured pork dish that is typically served for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Philippines. It originated in Spain and was introduced to the Philippines during the Spanish colonization. However, Filipinos have made this dish completely their own by adding flavours that are a hallmark of Filipino cuisine: sweet, garlicky, and peppery.
The process of making tocino differs from each region of the Philippines. There are many varieties of the dish using pork slices, chicken and even beef.
It is a classic dish that has been enjoyed by generations and can be served with rice, fried eggs, and tomato slices. The word ‘tocino’ comes from the Spanish word for bacon but when it comes to Filipino cuisine, it is different from what we can find in a British bacon butty.
Filipino cuisine is a fusion of different cultures such as Malay, Chinese, Spanish and American. Some popular Filipino dishes include adobo, sinigang, kare-kare, lechon and many more. And yet it is sometimes severely disdained by various cooking experts and pronounced to be junk copied blindly on American style of eating.
Perhaps compared with other South East Asian cuisines, Filipino food is not spicy or exotic enough; too sweet or too bland. But to be honest, I am certainly not out to judge flavoursome, vibrantly coloured, marinated meat having grown up on sad East European pork seasoned with salt and maybe pepper if my Mum was feeling reckless!
I’ve not been fortunate enough to have had the typical breakfast of tosilog: tocino, sinangág (garlic rice) and itlóg (egg) in Manila, but I can certainly say that the western take on the dish produces excellent results. Just imagine how gorgeous the real deal must taste like!
How is Filipino bacon made?
In the Philippines they cure the pork in the juice of a native fruit called annatto, which, apart from tart sweetness, gives the meat bright crimson colour. Since it is broadly unavailable outside South East Asia, the recipe from New York Times Cooking suggests using a combination of beetroot and pineapple juice.
So how to go about preparing that peculiar Asian-Caribbean (because they have a similar dish also in West Indies) kind of bacon?
The meat is either pork belly or, like what I’m using, pork neck aka shoulder. It is sliced thinly and marinated in the crimson concoction of beet and pineapple juice, brown sugar, soy sauce for the bacon-like saltiness, and lots of crushed garlic because you have to have garlic with pork.
The marinating process needs at least 24 hours and up to 2 days.
And then what? How to cook pork tocino?
Frying is the most common method of cooking tocino in the Philippines. However, you can also grill it or bake it in the oven if you prefer. But the slowly caramelised slices, crispening around the edges and burnished in the middle are hard to resist.
Just like bacon, you should add tocino slices to a cold pan. You’re aiming for slow and gradual caramelisation rather than flash searing.
A non-stick pan is the easiest to handle in the preparation of this dish, but a well-seasoned cast iron skillet will serve as well if not better.
And then you can go full Filipino and serve it with rice and egg, or westernise the experience, load the tocino into a fat big bread roll and call it a fusion bacon sandwich. Either way, you will enjoy it tremendously.
You could also use pork tocino in one of these recipes, to replace ordinary bacon:
Spicy salad of bacon and cucumber mixed with new potatoes and served warm. Cured pork appears often in Chinese cuisine, often paired with Sichuan pepper and chilies.
Fresh corn, bacon and avocado salad with crumbled feta and furikake seasoning, on a bed of iceberg lettuce: one of the best main course salads ever.
Cheesy bacon and sweetcorn enchiladas with red salsa, made with crisp, toasted corn tortillas. Assemble and bake them straight away, so they don’t get soggy standing around.