What is bagnet?
Many foreigners have heard of Filipino lechon, a world-renown pork dish with smooth yet crispy skin and delicious soft meat inside. However, many have yet to hear of the devil’s incarnate sure to make your heart palpitate from sheer crispiness, flavor, and oil that is known as bagnet!
Ilocos, a province of the Philippines is the origin of the so-called and infamous bagnet. What is it? Bagnet is basically boiled, air-dried, and deep-fried slabs of pork belly — in that order! Doesn’t that just sound absolutely crazy?
Many comparisons are drawn between it and its close cousin the lechon kawali with similarly crispy skin. However, the main distinguishing factor between bagnet and lechon kawali is its preparation and cooking process, and as well as its own place of origin which is different from the Tagalog-invented lechon kawali.
Bagnet, according to tales of locals in the province of Ilocos, has its origins in the town of Narvacan in the Ilocos Sur region (the southern part of Ilocos). Narvacan to this day continues to hold annual celebrations of the “Bagnet Festival” where they showcase all sorts of ways to cook this guilty pleasure of a pork dish.
Some theories of how exactly this ridiculous method of boiling, air-drying, and deep-frying came about have roots in its practicality as a means of food preservation in order to extend the meat’s shelf life. However, this is not officially confirmed and is mostly a tale handed down through oral tradition.
Regardless of its fuzzy origins, this unusual dish has not only remained in the provinces of Ilocos, but has become a sensation nationwide competing for the throne with its lechon rival. Next time you make your trip in the Philippines, make sure to visit the province of Ilocos for this one-of-a-kind sinful dish known as bagnet!
How do you make bagnet?
Making a dish as sinful as bagnet is surely not easy. If you want to make this ultra crispy pork belly dish, you’re gonna have to put up with a relatively long process. However, I assure you that it’s all worth it in the end!
Bagnet preparation usually begins by rubbing and seasoning the pork belly meat with salt. Afterward, the actual pork skin is pricked with a fork or a bundle of sticks. This allows the pork belly to pop once it enters the process of deep frying.
Some however choose to boil instead of deep frying the prepared bagnet meat. In Ilocos, the usual tradition is making large batches of bagnet meat, and placing this meat inside a large pot called a “sinublan” to boil.
After boiling the meat, it is then air dried for a few hours before going to the next step. What is this next step you may ask? This is none other than deep-frying of course!
After the meat is dried, the next step is to submerge the air-dried meat in hot boiling oil for approximately 20 minutes, or whenever the pork’s skin pops. When the skin pops, you’d think that the process is done… but you’re mistaken!
This process of deep frying is not just done once… but twice or even thrice! By the third time, the pork’s skin achieves its infamous crispiness, and its irresistible juiciness and oiliness inside. Perhaps the best part about bagnet is this amazing contrast between the crispy and crunchy skin with its inner moist and tender pork meat. Truly a pork dish to die for!
How do you eat bagnet?
Let’s say you’ve never had bagnet before in your life. This is very likely if you’re from Western countries, which are halfway across the world from the Philippines. What would a bagnet amateur need to make the most of one’s bagnet eating experience?
Though bagnet can be eaten as is, it is at least usually paired with rice, the typical Asian staple food. Bagnet is also often partnered with some unique Filipino condiments such as bagoong, a type of fermented shrimp paste! Some also opt for the fermented fish variant of bagoong known as “bagoong-isda,” some opt for “sarsa” (this is a type of sweet and tangy Filipino pork liver sauce), and some even use the eternal toyo-kalamansi-sili (soy sauce with calamansi juice and chili peppers) combination!
Needless to say, perhaps one of bagnet’s best characteristics is its sheer flexibility that allows it to be paired with all sorts of condiments, and even all sorts of normal Filipino pork-based dishes.
For instance, some pair bagnet with pork sinigang, a sour and savory type of Filipino soup dish. Some on the other hand pair it with kare-kare, a Filipino stew with thick peanut sauce (this is worthy of an article on its own!) Some pair it up with pinakbet, a Filipino vegetable stew in shrimp paste or fermented fish.
The list goes on and on, all serving as a testament to the flexibility of this mouth-watering pork belly dish from the obscure province of the Philippines known as Ilocos. Talk about Filipino pride!
My personal take on bagnet
Bagnet is a dish that is simply too good to be true for those of us who absolutely love pork belly dishes! As if the Filipinos weren’t already renowned for lechon, it seems that our little-known cuisine packs a particular punch with this hidden gem known as bagnet.
On your next trip to the Philippines, be sure to drop by the province of Ilocos and have yourself a bite of this absolute demon of crispy fried pork belly known as bagnet! This is truly a dish to die for — although hopefully not literally for those of us with heart conditions.
Give it a shot, but eat it in moderation if you care for your health. Save your insatiable appetite for future servings of bagnet, as the province of Ilocos is teeming from the edges with this infamous pork belly dish.
In a sentence, perhaps the best way to summarize this dish is the following: devilish crispiness and sheer tenderness that can only be tasted to be believed. This is a one of a kind experience for all pork-lovers out there who want something a little excessive once in a while. I say, give it a shot, and hopefully you won’t regret it!