What Is Tocino?

Dan Harkins

In several Spanish-speaking countries, particularly Cuba and Puerto Rico, the pork treat tocino literally means "bacon" or simply "hog's lard." Containing few streaks of meat, this food has been prepared for generations as a salt-cured meat served mainly with some Caribbean entrees. In the Spanish-influenced Philippines, tocino also is a familiar treat, though its preparation is slightly more elaborate than for its Latin American cousins, and it is used there primarily for breakfast.

Tocino is usually served with eggs and rice for breakfast.
Tocino is usually served with eggs and rice for breakfast.

In Latin America, tocino is not not prepared in the typically western, thin-sliced way. Tocino in the Caribbean is actually cut into cubes, then fried just like the long, thin strips. This treat is added to several dishes or forms the center of its own, arroz blanco con tocino, or white rice with bacon.

Citrus is a popular ingredient in tocino marinade.
Citrus is a popular ingredient in tocino marinade.

The Filipino tradition is to serve tocino as a tapa, or silog. This means it is served with fried rice and egg for breakfast. When bacon forms the entree of the tapas, it is called a bacsilog. This evolved from generations of Spanish colonialism in this Southeast Asian island nation.

To prepare the dish, strips of pork butt, shoulder or just fat — often with the skin included — are trimmed and cured for at least three days in a sealed refrigerated container. Before storage for curing, a combination of Filipino spices are added for a long period of marination in the refrigerator: salt, sugar, annatto for coloring, and Anise wine, which has hints of licorice and tarragon flavor. Before the advent of refrigeration, it also was common for chefs to add the preservative potassium nitrate, or saltpeter, to the mix, but this is no longer needed.

In modern times it is customary for Pinoy chefs to use a range of twists to make tocino. Some use garlic, citrus like pineapple or orange juice, or a citrus soda like Sprite® or 7-Up®, along with the other marination flavorings. After three days, the pork is removed from the refrigerator and fried in a skillet, just like the westernized versions.

No oil should be needed in the pan, since the tocino has enough of its own. Some forego frying all together in favor of boiling their bacon. A custom of the Filipino Kapampangan people is to stir the ingredients with the pork for several hours, then leave it out to marinate and ferment at room temperature. This dish is called burong babi.

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