Our hosts were eager to let me taste a “Bacolod” lechon. From what I understand, there are several versions of lechons in Bacolod, with lechoneros having their own preferred choice or mix of ingredients. The last time our host had a local lechon made, she was surprised by the use of mango leaves, including young mango tree branches in the stomach cavity of the pig. This time around, the lechonero said he was going to use just batuan and tanglad or lemongrass. The photos in this post aren’t attempting to be artsy or unusual, they are simply the result of trying to capture the roasting of a pig over lots of coals in pitch darkness! The surreal bursts of light came from the night watchman’s strong flashlight…
The first thing I noticed when they cleaned the pig was that the stomach opening wasn’t as large a the lechons we do in Cebu. They also didn’t separate the meat from the ribs as we sometimes do for extra places to add the spices and salt. However, the lechonero did a superb job of slaughtering and dressing this pig.
Out came two plastic bags, one filled with batuan, a sour fragrant fruit that is common in local cooking, and another of lemongrass. These were stuffed into the pig along with LOTS of fresh banana leaves and rock salt. Nothing else. After sewing up the pig, hot coals were spread out directly on the ground under a nearby tree and the makeshift lechonan was complete.
The pig was placed VERY LOW to the ground, with the heat of the coals regulated by a rake that pushed the coals closer and closer to the pig to increase the heat. They basted the lechon with vegetable oil throughout the cooking process.
The resulting lechon was beautifully burnished, with a crisp skin. It was taken off the fire and served to guests within minutes. The scent and flavor of batuan seemed to permeate the meat and even the skin and it provided a counterpoint to the natural fattiness of pork. It was simple, clean and delicious. No fancy stuff, none needed. And NO MSG, which I am realizing is a lot of the “secret ingredient” of commercial Cebuano lechons. If you order a lechon, try asking the vendor to do it with NO MSG and see if that freaks them out… I suspect many lechons won’t taste as umamish with that flavor enhancer…
Here’s a photo of the contents of the lechon cavity… lots of banana leaves, the whole batuan softened by the roasting and lemongrass back in there somewhere… Yum!