Sisig: An Illustrious Filipino Dish
The term "sisig" refers to the spicy and fatty—but oh-so-popular—meat dish served all over the Philippines. It is considered a specialty food because its long and arduous preparation is really a "labor of love." But after hours of cooking, the aroma alone can make anyone hungry.
Sisig is best served with a mug of ice-cold beer. It is the unofficial national dish for Filipino beer drinkers because of its unique blend of chili-pepper spice, sour vinegar and calamansi juice, as well as the saltiness of salt and soy sauce. Other herbs like garlic, red onion, white onion, ginger, black pepper, green bell pepper, celery, green onion leaves, kinchai, and kuchai also add to the rich bouquet of aromatic flavor.
Sisig is considered to be a special dish and is often served with steamy rice for lunch or dinner at home. Well-known Filipino restaurants have concocted different cooking methods, yet the dish always ends up spicy, sizzling, and delicious.
Spicy pork sisig has also become a popular topping for pizza. Hot sauce lovers will surely love "sizzling sisig" pizzas!
Pork Sisig: Original and New Ingredients
The common—and original—ingredients for sisig are parts of the pig's head (snout, cheeks, and ears), chicken liver and heart, and crispy pork skin. The dish is typically served on a sizzling plate, thus the term "sizzling sisig." A whole raw egg is placed on top as the main garnishing.
Today, this ultra-versatile dish has adapted different varieties of main ingredients, including beef head, chicken, tuna, bangus (milkfish), pork, tofu, mussels, mixed seafoods, ostrich meat, python, frog meat, and more.
Making Sisig Involves 3 Cooking Techniques
This dish is characterized by the small bits of all ingredients mixed together. Everything is chopped: meat, garlic, onions, chili pepper, chicken liver, and any additional spices, except the raw egg and the calamansi, of course.
As if chopping everything is not enough work, the preliminary preparation requires three cooking methods: boiling, grilling (or broiling), and frying the pig's head, which has been deboned with only the snout, cheeks, and ears included.
- Boil. To tenderize the pig's head so that deboning and cutting into smaller parts will be easy.
- Grill/Broil/Barbecue. To remove the hair from the pig's head and provide an authentic smoky taste.
- Fry/Sauté. To crisp the meat and to sauté with garlic, onions, and other desired spices.
Sisig has always been served on sizzling hot plates, but many variations have been introduced by adding any of the following:
- Raw egg
- Chicharon (pork or chicken crisp/cracklings; or beef rind)
- Liver (pork or chicken)
- Brain (pork or ox)
Since not all people like to eat fatty or oily dishes, local chefs have concocted different versions using other ingredients such as chicken, tuna, bangus, squid, and tofu.
Why Pigs' Heads?
Before sisig was invented and popularized, pigs' heads were cheaply priced because they were not often used in preparing meals for the family. People who usually bought them simply boiled the ears and jowl until tender, then chopped them and marinated them in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and ground black pepper.
Whole beef heads were priced higher because they are used in another popular Filipino dish: gotong batangas. This is a hot soup that contains chunks of assorted beef, internal organs, and deboned beef head, boiled until cooked in ginger and different spices. Recently, beef heads are also prepared as beef sisig.
How to Cook Chicken Sisig
Of all the variations, this one is the easiest to prepare.
- 1 jumbo-sized roasted chicken
- 1 tablespoon seedless calamansi juice
- 3 medium red onions, chopped
- 3 medium white onions, chopped
- 3 long green peppers, chopped
- 1 red chili pepper, chopped
- 1 big red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 palm-sized ginger, chopped
- Remove the bones from the chicken and cut the flesh into small cubes. Add the chicken cubes to a microwave-safe bowl. Blend in the calamansi juice.
- To the bowl, add the red onions, white onions, green peppers, chili pepper, red bell pepper, and ginger. Mix all ingredients thoroughly.
- Microwave directions: Heat in the microwave oven for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Stovetop directions: If you don't have a microwave oven, heat the mixture in a non-stick pan while stirring constantly.
- Serve hot over steamed rice or cooked pasta.
How to Cook Tuna Sisig
This is also very easy to prepare.
- Buy a large piece of fresh tuna steak. Wash and drain. Drizzle with vinegar or calamansi juice and grill over hot coals until cooked. With a fork, flake the tuna flesh and set aside.
- In a non-stick pan, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Sauté one whole garlic head (peeled and minced) until golden. Add chopped 1 big red onion, 1 long green pepper, 1 red chili pepper, and 1 tablespoon of ginger juice. Stir in flaked tuna and blend well over low-medium heat. Add one whole egg, if desired.
- Serve hot on a sizzling plate. Provide calamansi, soy sauce, and chili pepper in a separate dip dish.
Note: Canned tuna chunks can also be used. Choose the variant in vegetable oil. Use the oil from the can to sauté.
How to Cook Bangus Sisig
Bangus, or milkfish, is a little tricky to prepare because the fish has more than a hundred tiny and needle-thin bones to remove. Use a pair of tweezers to pluck them out.
- Clean, wash, and cut a large-sized whole milkfish into 4 parts. Boil in salted water for 15 minutes and drain. Remove the head and tail. Using a fork and knife, flake the flesh and carefully separate all fish bones. You may include the fish skin (without the scales), if desired. Marinate in vinegar and soy sauce for 10 minutes.
- Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick pan. Over medium heat, sauté 5 cloves of minced garlic, 1 chopped green bell pepper, and 1 tablespoon minced ginger. Add bangus flakes and cook while stirring occasionally. Add 1 large chopped white onion and remove from heat.
- Serve hot on a sizzling plate. Garnish with sliced calamansi fruit and red chili pepper.
How to Cook Squid Sisig
Squid sisig is somewhat chewy because the stringy flesh is not finely chopped. Squid rings are used as garnishing.
- Clean 2 pounds of fresh large squids. Remove the round bulge inside the squid's mouth, the transparent backbone, and the innards. Wash thoroughly and drain. Marinate in calamansi juice and salt for 15 minutes, then boil for 5 minutes. Remove the skin and drain very well.
- Chop the heads and tails. Cut the body into rings but use only small-sized ones as garnishing; chop the bigger rings into bits. Set aside to drain.
- Mince 1 large garlic head and a thumb-sized slice of ginger. Chop 1 large onion, 3 long green peppers, 2 red chili peppers, and 1 large red bell pepper.
- In a small amount of hot oil, sauté garlic, onion, ginger, and all peppers. Add the chopped squids. Stir to avoid sticking. Sprinkle salt and ground black pepper. Drizzle a half cup of vinegar and leave to boil without stirring. Add a dash of soy sauce, just enough to add color. Let simmer for 15 minutes over very low heat. Prolong cooking time to remove excess sauce. Serve hot.
How to Cook Tofu Sisig
Tofu sisig is a bit oily because the tofu cubes have to be fried first. Use vegetable oil or olive oil in frying. Brown the tofu cubes to make them slightly chewy.
- Wash and drain 1 large block of firm tofu. Cut into cubes and deep-fry in very hot oil. Place in a strainer to remove excess oil.
- Sauté a half cup of chopped red onions and 1/4 cup of sliced long green peppers in a small amount of hot oil. Stir in fried tofu cubes.
- Add 3 tablespoons of vinegar and let boil. Add salt and ground black pepper to season. Sprinkle brown sugar to sweeten the taste. Serve hot.
The term sisig originated from Pampanga (a province in the island of Luzon, Philippines) and means "to snack on something sour." "Something sour" usually refers to unripe or semi-ripe fruits that are sour to taste (such as mango) and eaten with salt and vinegar dip.
The word is also used to describe a method of food preparation that marinates fish and meat (particularly pork) in a sour concoction—lemon juice or vinegar—and seasoned with pepper, salt, and other desired spices (such as garlic or green onion leaves).
These days, the only sisig that Filipinos (especially from other parts of the Philippines) know is the unforgettable "sizzling sisig."
Aling Lucing and the History of Sisig
In mid-1974, Lucia Cunanan, a lady restaurateur in Angeles, invented the original pork sisig dish. The pig ears and cheeks were boiled until tender and then chopped into small cubes. The meat was generously seasoned with vinegar and calamansi juice, then served with chopped onions and chopped grilled chicken liver and served on sizzling plates.
Aling Lucing, Ms. Cunanan's nickname, has been acknowledged by the Philippine Department of Tourism as the Sisig Queen, and her restaurant established the City of Angeles in Pampanga as the "Sisig Capital of the Philippines."