Plans started several months ago. The President of the university I attended was scheduled to make a visit to Manila, the first time this has ever happened in the long history of the school. It was to be a big deal, and some 40-50 alumni of the school were set to greet, fete and host our special guest an his party. A private reception was scheduled for Saturday night, and I had been asked if I could provide a lechon for the event. I didn’t want to just have a cooked lechon flown in (it arrives cold and not in the finest condition) so I had arranged weeks before to cook the lechon in our garage so that we could deliver it to the chopping block minutes after we took it off the fire. In other words, with steam still rising from its butt, which I have always said is the best way to enjoy a lechon…
…but shit happens. And the storm that was about to hit Luzon forced the guests to change their travel plans at the last minute, so with just several hours to go, all scheduled events were cancelled. Months of planning up in smoke. Que sera sera. But with pigs on the premises, we decided to cook them anyway. One was to be sent to our hostess for her to enjoy with friends and family, and one we were to eat at home, with friends. Here is how we did it. Just in case you are mad enough to do the same for the President of your university… :)
First, assemble a makeshift roasting pit in your garage, with fire bricks if possible on the base, and hollow blocks on the sides. Start a fire and fan it good. We ended up using an electric fan as it seems the humidity and coals were just so damp from the rains.
Once you have a sack worth of coals at their peak, spread them out to create an instant, and incredibly hot roasting pit. Temper the heat until it is less searing. Move the coals about so there are hot and cooler spots.
In the meantime, stuff your lechon, sew it up on fresh bamboo poles, and slather it with coconut water, oil and salt. Start cooking approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes before you need the lechon.
The most important step, for me, was to previously book two airline tickets for our two best lechoneros to fly into Manila to roast the pigs for me. :) Seriously, this was the key to the whole exercise. One had never been on a plane, nor been to Manila, so this was an adventure of his own.
Notice how there are no coals directly under the pigs. Just keep the heat to the front, back and sides.
Eventually, with much care and dedication, you will end up with a lechon that looks like this, a 9 or 9.5 in our own grading scale for quality control. It smelled utterly intoxicating and it had the most amazingly crisp skin. Let it rest for say 15-20 minutes before cutting into it. Keep it out of a draft of an air conditioner. The other pig was swiftly carted off and delivered to the original host of the evening’s festivities for her to enjoy with her family.
In the meantime, while the pig is roasting, frantically contact close friends to invite them to an impromptu dinner. set the table simply, using some very economically priced kalabasa from the market at the beach a few weeks ago.
Prep a roasted talong salad with tomatoes. Prep a pako or fern salad as well. Pop a shrimp and tomato rice into the oven, and make a kinilaw to start.
We fried and chopped up some tinapang bangus or smoked fish, and added some salted duck egg. This “relish” was meant to be sprinkled on your salads in case you wanted more saltiness and protein along with your veggies. This also had some deep-fried garlic bits.
Finally, put out some simple sauces for the lechon, one a soy and vinegar with chili mixture, the other, a patis or fish sauce and home-grown dayap or lime which pairs beautifully with the lechon. Not such a bad outcome from a cancelled event. You just have to find the silver lining every time those storm clouds appear on the horizon. :)