|22 Prime's cochinillo asado. Photo: Handout
MANILA, Philippines – One of the top steakhouses in the metro, 22 Prime, has opened up its menu to include a specialty pork dish for its meat-loving patrons – cochinillo asado.
“I wanted to show something other than steak. For months, I’ve been toying around with pork to come up with a new dish,” said Luis Chikiamco, executive chef of 22 Prime at the Discovery Suites in Ortigas, Pasig City, which is known for its USDA rib eye steaks.
And why not? It’s a well-known fact that Filipinos love pork, as shown in several of the country’s most popular dishes.
While the restaurant's suckling pig dish prominently figures in Spanish cuisine, Filipinos are no stranger to it because of its “cousin,” the lechon, or whole pig roasted in a pole, which well-known boar buff Anthony Bourdain called “the best pig ever.”
Chikiamco uses 550 grams of suckling pig for an order of cochinillo asado at 22 Prime, which is good for two to three persons.
He first cures the pig with mostly earthy spices (such as coriander) as well as sugar, salt and pepper for 20 to 24 hours.
After wiping off the rub, the chef cooks it sous-vide (sealed in a plastic bag and placed in a water bath) for six hours. When it’s ready, the meat is pan-seared until the skin is crispy.
“We’re thinking of other dishes as well,” said Chikiamco, who used to work at Lemuria and Terry’s Selection, among many others.
22 Prime’s cochinillo asado is priced at P1,850, which includes a half kilo of suckling pig served on a wooden board with a side of vegetables and peach chutney spiked with cayenne pepper.
The order also comes with two bowls of Spanish garlic and pimenton soup, and a sampler of the restaurant’s available desserts.
Cooking pork at home
Despite the Filipinos’ great love for pork, however, most of them do not know how to handle the meat properly, noted Chikiamco.
Chikiamco, who replaced the renowned Colombian chef David Pardo de Ayala (who now works as resident manager for Discovery Suites), said it is a common mistake among Filipinos to overcook their pork, thinking that it should be white all the way through, like chicken.
Contrary to what most people think, he said a well-cooked pork is usually slightly pink and juicy.
“Filipinos like their pork white because they think that’s the only sign that it’s already cooked,” he told ABS-CBNnews.com. “If it’s pink, they think it’s raw. But that’s the point you want it to be.”
Chikiamco said pork can be cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 65 degrees Celsius, slightly below what cookbooks are saying at 71 degrees.
This is consistent with a fact sheet by the National Pork Board and the American Meat Science Association, which noted that pork can be cooked to as low as 63 degrees Celsius for three minutes, or for a minute at 66 degrees.
It added that pork chops “can remain pink after reaching the optimal time and temperature combination.”
“Use a meat thermometer – judging meat doneness by appearance alone is risky business and almost guarantees less than optimum eating quality,” the fact sheet read.
For those who do not have a meat thermometer and are just cooking “by feel,” Chikiamco gave these simple tips: “A half-inch thick pork chop usually takes two minutes each side to cook. If the blood comes out from the top and the juices are a bit clear, it’s almost done.
“But if the juices are still red and the meat is really red, it’s still raw. It should just be pinkisk,” he added.
Customers know best
Despite his encyclopedic knowledge of meat, Chikiamco said he still sometimes ends up overcooking some pork dishes – at the request of his customers.
But he has no problem with that, especially if that’s what will make them enjoy their meal more.
“In the end, it’s still up to them. I cook for them, after all,” he said.