Lechon Kawali with Atchara (Pickled Green Papaya)

At Chicago's Bayan Ko, chef Lawrence Letrero and his wife and partner Raquel Quadreny meld his Filipino and her Cuban heritages in each plate of food. Their intentions come together perfectly in this lechon, featuring pork belly meltingly tender underneath a crispy crust. The  crunchy atchara, a pickled papaya salad, balances the richness of the pork with spicy, salty, acidic and fresh notes, while the sweet-sour dipping sauce pulls all the flavors together. The atchara will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of months; use any leftover to add a tart kick to tacos and sandwiches.

Lechon Kawali with Atchara
Photo: Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Thom Driver
Active Time:
1 hr 15 mins
Total Time:
14 hrs 45 mins


Atchara (Pickled Green Papaya)

  • 8 cups cold water

  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt, divided

  • 1 (24-ounce) green papaya, peeled and shredded (10 cups)

  • 1 small (4-ounce) red bell pepper, thinly sliced (1 1/4 cups)

  • 1 large (2 1/2-ounce) carrot, peeled and shredded (1 cup)

  • 1 (1-ounce) jalapeño chile, seeded and thinly sliced (1/4 cup)

  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (1/4 cup)

  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/8- x 1/8- x 2-in. matchsticks (2 tablespoons)

  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns

  • 2 ½ cups white vinegar

  • 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar

  • ½ cup water

Pork Belly

  • 5 pounds pork belly

  • 4 quarts water

  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • ¼ cup fish sauce

  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns

  • 5 dried bay leaves

Dipping Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons canola oil

  • 1 medium-size (8-ounce) yellow onion, thinly sliced (2 cups)

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (2 tablespoons)

  • 1 ¾ cups water

  • ¾ cup packed light brown sugar

  • ¾ cup dry breadcrumbs

  • ¼ cup soy sauce

  • ¼ cup white vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce

Additional Ingredients

  • Canola oil, as needed


Prepare the Atchara (Pickled Green Papaya):

  1. Whisk together cold water and 2 tablespoons of the salt in a very large bowl until dissolved. Add papaya, and soak, covered, in refrigerator for 12 hours.

  2. Remove papaya from water; place in a kitchen towel, and squeeze out as much water as you can. Place papaya in a large heatproof bowl; add bell pepper, carrot, jalapeño, garlic, ginger, peppercorns, and remaining 2 tablespoons salt, stirring to combine.

  3. Place vinegar, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium-high, stirring occasionally. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and pour vinegar mixture over papaya mixture in large heatproof bowl; stir together. Transfer to an airtight heatproof container, and refrigerate until flavors meld, at least 30 minutes or up to 2 months (flavor will intensify with time).

Prepare the Pork Belly:

  1. Place pork, water, salt, fish sauce, peppercorns, and bay leaves in a large stockpot (make sure pork is completely submerged); bring to a simmer over medium-high. Simmer, undisturbed, until pork can be pierced with a wooden pick with no resistance and a thermometer inserted into pork registers at least 145°F (it will likely be around 200°F), about 1 hour.

  2. Remove Pork Belly from stockpot, and transfer to a baking sheet; discard remaining ingredients in stockpot. Sprinkle Pork Belly skin with 1 teaspoon additional salt , and let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Cut Pork Belly into 1-inch pieces.

While Pork Belly cools, prepare the Dipping Sauce:

  1. Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium. Add onion and garlic, and cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add water, brown sugar, breadcrumbs, soy sauce, vinegar, and hot sauce; bring to a simmer over medium-high, stirring occasionally. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Carefully pour mixture into a blender. Secure lid on blender, and remove center piece to allow steam to escape. Place a clean towel over opening. Process until smooth, about 1 minute. (Dipping Sauce may be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 14 days.)

  2. Pour canola oil into a deep pot to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Heat oil over medium-high to 350°F. Working in 3 batches, carefully add Pork Belly to oil, and fry until skin is lightly browned, 4 to 6 minutes per batch. (Be careful when frying; Pork Belly will pop or splatter.) Using a spider or slotted spoon, transfer Pork Belly to a wire rack on a baking sheet. Serve with Dipping Sauce and Atchara (Pickled Green Papaya).

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