It was a long flight, 14 hours from San Francisco direct to Manila. Despite traveling for more than half a day and a 3-plus hour drive ahead of us to my parents’ province, my father insisted we stop off in Angeles City, Pampanga to buy sisig from a local roadside food stall. Sitting in an air-conditioned car, fighting off my jet lag, I watched my father wait in the heat, as dust swirled all around him in and out of the food stall. All this so he could bring some of the tastiest sisig to our family in the province. I cringed just a little bit as I thought of the dust that may have contaminated our food. “It adds to the flavor,” joked my father.
Recently a prominent chef/television host spoke about sisig’s impending emergence as America’s gateway dish to Filipino cuisine. However, some of us have grown up eating this since childhood. Sisig is one of many pulutan, snacks that are known for matching well with beer and other alcoholic drinks. Pulutan has evolved from finger food only had with drinks to main dishes at the party table, alongside more well-known Filipino entrees. Sisig has become one of the more popular pulutan, especially among this younger generations of Filipinos, with the evolution of food trucks like Senor Sisig and pop up restaurants, exposing a whole new set of people with their takes of this tasty dish.
Although first recorded in 1732 by a Spanish missionary serving in Pampanga, sisig found itself reinvented in the 1970s when “Aling Lucing” (whose real name was Lucia Cunanan) revamped traditional sisig, which was initially boiled pig ears and jowls added to a sour green papaya or green guava salad. She took the boiled meat and grilled it, chopped it, and then fried it with chicken livers and sometimes pig brains, along with various sour elements, spices and chilis. Eventually, sisig found its way onto a plate so hot, lovingly topped with a raw egg, making room on the menu for the newly coined term sizzling sisig. These newer versions catapulted Aling Lucing into the limelight and Angeles City onto the map as the Sisig Capital of the World.
In a collaborative report by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the Asian & Pacific Islander Health Forum and West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center on Cardiovascular Risk in the Filipino Community, community leaders were asked to list the top 5 health concerns amongst Filipinos. They listed heart disease, blood pressure and diabetes as three of them, because of heredity, as well as lifestyle risk factors, including a diet high in fat, cholesterol and sodium. Dishes like sisig typically use ingredients, such as pork cheeks and chicken liver and regular soy sauce, not exactly known for their place in heart healthy eating. But can one make a healthy version of pulutan, of sisig? Could even a kind like this exist? While maybe not fitting the criteria for low fat (3g or less), low cholesterol (20g or less) or low sodium (150mg or less), there can be healthier ways to make sisig at home.
By using chicken breast, you can further increase the heart healthy elements of the dish, however other low-fat protein sources, such as fish or even tofu, could also be used. This recipe utilizes ingredients to help decrease the amount of fat, cholesterol and sodium, in comparison to what you may find in the restaurant. When people think of sisig, they generally think of the protein being pork. While pork has higher saturated fat than chicken or fish, using leaner cuts of pork can decrease the amount of fat consumed. Trimming off any visible fat off whichever meat you use can further cut back on calories from fat. Because the chicken breasts are tender already, there was no need to boil the meat prior to grilling it. I cut the chicken breast into bite-size cubes prior to marinating them in sukang paombong, a vinegar derived from coconut water, to help give the sisig its sourness. I let it soak in the vinegar, so it could infuse into the cooked meat, while I worked on the fresher ingredients.
While onions are often used in sautéing for sisig, I used shallots for this recipe. Because they have a stronger, more intense flavor than onions, along with lots of fresh garlic cloves, ginger and a mix of jalapeno and Fresno chili peppers, I had hoped the flavor of these would make up for the minimal amount of sauce (more sauce can easily increase the sodium in foods). Fresh herbs and spices can always enhance the flavor when trying to minimize the use of salt. After sautéing the garlic and shallots until they are fragrant, then adding the ginger, the chicken is ready to join the ingredients in the pan. Once mixed well and making sure the chicken is thoroughly cooked, adding the sauce back in as the last step can ensure the sauce has been cooked enough but not completely out during the process and evaporating.
In addition to sukang paombong the chicken had been soaking in, for the sauce, I found a citrus-soy seasoning (Mama Sita’s Toyo at Kalamansi) that had less sodium than even most low-sodium soy sauces out in the market. Fresh calamansi juice (straight from my mother’s backyard) rounded out the rest of the ingredients for the sauce. If you’re not lucky enough to have easy access to a fresh calamansi tree, you can use store-bought calamansi juice, but be aware of any added sugars or preservatives. Any of these ingredients can be found in your local Asian grocery store.
The sisig is now ready to be eaten. Add some short grain brown rice and fresh vegetables (preferably, not fried) to round out your meal with some complex carbohydrates, fiber, and other vitamins and minerals.
Although, this version of sisig is not exactly fitting the USDA’s criteria of a low salt and low-fat food, this goes to show that it is possible to enjoy the Filipino food you know, and by substituting some ingredients, make it fit into a healthier lifestyle and fulfilling your taste buds.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Serving size: 3/4c
Yields: 6 servings
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 knob ginger, minced
2 large shallots, minced
1-2 chili peppers (jalapeno, Fresno, and/or Thai), sliced
2 chicken breasts (about 1½ lbs. pre-cooked)
About 1 tsp Refined olive oil or canola oil for cooking
Pepper to taste
¼ cup coconut vinegar, or sukang paombong
¼ cup low sodium citrus soy sauce, or low sodium soy sauce
¼ cup fresh calamansi juice (about 4-5 small calamansi)
Cut the chicken breast into small cubes and sauté over medium heat until lightly browned. Once cooked, let soak in coconut vinegar (or sukang paombong) and calamansi juice
As the chicken is marinating, prepare the other ingredients- mince garlic, shallots, ginger, thinly slice the chili peppers. Lightly drizzle pan with high heat olive oil or canola oil and heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté minced garlic and 1/3 of the minced shallots until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add minced ginger and cook for 30 seconds.
Take cubed chicken out of coconut vinegar and calamansi juice. Save vinegar and calamansi juice mixture for later. Turn down the heat to medium. Add cubed chicken to sauté pan with garlic, shallots, ginger and chilis and cook for another few minutes until the chicken is almost fully cooked.
Add coconut vinegar and calamansi juice mixture to sauté pan. Mix and cook ingredients well. Add the citrus soy sauce. Turn off heat and take pan off heated burner. Add other 2/3 of the remaining minced shallots, as well as the sliced chili peppers (add accordingly to your desired level of spiciness). Add pinches of pepper as needed.
Serve immediately, or for stronger flavor, let sit in sauce off heat and serve later.
Per serving: Calories 172; Fat 4 g (Saturated 1 g); Cholesterol 66 mg; Sodium 637 mg; Carbohydrate 8 g; Fiber 0 g; Sugars 3 g; Protein 27 g