23 Jun2008

Lechon, Round 2…

by Marketman

lechon21

While this should really be treated as the official “Round 1” lechon attempt, the first dry run described here yielded very decent results, so I guess this is now officially Lechon #2… All you have to do is a take a good close look at the lechon skin in the photo above to know this was an improvement on the first roasted pig. Not wanting to re-invent the wheel, we decided to engage the services of a traditional and “professional” town or barangay lechonero, Mang Fredo, and see what he did differently to ensure a delicious lechon. This was certainly a wise move. And thankfully, he was a “classic” kind of lechon guy, not many tricks or shortcuts up his sleeve, just good old common sense, a few flavoring tricks, and the patience of an ox.

lechon24

We learned a lot from Mang Fredo, and now I am beginning to realize just how many possible different techniques or nuances exist when making a lechon… I will know a lot when this series is over, but I am not sure I will have perfected the process. The first thing we did differently this time around was to buy the piglet (live weight 22 kilos) a few days before roasting it. We fed it only fruits and vegetables like overripe pineapples, etc., hoping that these last few days on a fruity diet would alter the flavor of the meat. Frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference, so I would guess that one has to keep the pig on a premium all organic diet for weeks if it is to have any impact on the quality of meat and intensity of flavor. Mang Fredo also took a different approach to stuffing and sewing up the pig. He made a VERY long incision in the belly, then broke the front legs of the carcass and stuffed his concoction of green onions, garlic, salt, pepper, dried bay leaves, red peppers and a little instant guisado mix (yikes!) deep into the recesses of the cleaned pig. This was a much more intense stuffing process than the one we did in Round 1. The incision was sewn up with kitchen string/twine rather than the rattan strips we used the first time around.

lechon25

The pig was allowed to “air-dry” for a couple of hours, then basted with the juice of several freshly picked coconuts, then allowed to dry again, before the fire was lit. In this case, we purchased three sacks of the highest quality (read large pieces) charcoal available, though we only used one sack for the entire cooking process. Mang Fredo spread an entire sack on the base of the lechonan and lit it until the coals were really hot. Then this was spread out and there was charcoal underneath the entire pig. This differs from our first attempt when we only had heat around the pig in a large oval… I have to say, I was worried about flare-ups from dripping oil but Mang Fredo seemed to know what he was doing. Soon after the pig was placed on the fire, it seemed like it was going to get burned, so he had to raise the pig and adjust the coals. Ultimately, I would have started with rought 2/3 or the large sack of coals first, adding coals if necessary at a later point in the cooking process. And I would place very few coals directly under the pig itself, still opting for mostly a perimiter ring of coals…

lechon30

I was thrilled to see that Mang Fredo relied only on the coconut water from freshly picked coconuts sourced on the property. I was worried he might take a shortcut here and use 7up, a cheap liquor or even a sweet soy sauce to help the caramelization process. He said you must let the pig dry off after you apply the coconut water. And if you are squeamish about flies, keep the pig indoors or in a screened room, or use an electric fan on high pointed at the pig. Mang Fredo did NOT baste the lechon at all with plain water or coconut water after he started cooking it. He said this would make the skin makunat or chewy.

lechon27

The revelation of round 2 wasn’t in the stuffing or the basting, it was in the roasting process itself. I always assumed that you just had to keep rotating the spit at an even pace for the entire cooking period, which lasted a whopping 3 hours last time we attempted this. But Mang Fredo did far more than that! He basically kept an eagle eye on the fire and the pig and kept adjusting the height of the pig and the pace at which he turned it. This isn’t something a little machine could replicate. It was fascinating to watch, actually. And frankly, I would have lost 5 pounds if I had to do this part of the process myself. This is where he distinguished himself as an “expert.” And having cooked hundreds of inasal (as they are referred to in Cebu), who was I to wonder if this degree of attention was really necessary to achieve a stunning lechon…

lechon22

And just 90 minutes later, like magic, this stunning looking lechon was the final result. About 60-70 minutes into the process, the salty liquid that came out of the stuffed stomach was wiped off with a clean rag and the entire pig was basted with some vegetable oil to make sure it browned evenly and had a nice sheen, and to help the final crisping of the skin. Mang Fredo finished so quickly we had to eat lunch at 11am! But who was complaining? The skin was wonderfully crisp (a bit like peking duck) near the shoulders of the pig and on some 50% of the rest of the pig. The meat was flavorful and moist (though I couldn’t tell if the fruit fed to the pig made a difference at all). The ribs were succulent without being overly salty. I would axe the guisa mix next time to keep this totally natural, but that is a minor quibble.

lechon23

Once the pig was devoured, I noticed that the serving platter had nearly two cups full of liquid, too much, I thought, and perhaps this was due to the volume of the stuffing and these vegetables would very likely give off a lot of moisture. I made a mental note to use significantly less stuffing the next time we attempted this on our own, as I wanted the meat juicy, but not waterlogged.

lechon28

About 20 people attacked this lechon and left it almost completely clean to the bones. Obviously, it was good. And yes, a little better than the first time we tried cooking lechon. But both versions had their advantages and disadvantages and the trick was to pick out and save the aspects of prepping, stuffing and cooking that might lead to the ideal lechon recipe in the months to come… And the numerical verdict on round 2? Overall score of 7.75, with an 8.00 for the taste and 7.50 for skin crispness and color.

lechon31

Oh, and don’t forget that some of the simplest things in life are the best… Fashion a little scoop from the shell of a fresh coconut and use it to scrape the young meat to eat as a snack while the lechon is on the fire… yum. I have just delayed my scheduled visit to the cardiologist for another couple of weeks. :)

P.S., If you look close enough, or the size of the photo is large enough on your computer screen, it appears as though you can discern each individual skin cell on the lechon piece photographed up top. I thought that was fascinating.

 

COMMENTS:

  1. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    AWESOME!!!!

    I’m looking forward too for your series on what you did with the inside and left-overs (i.e. dinuguan, paksiw, etc.).

    Jun 23, 2008 | 6:29 am

     
  2. A scientist in the kitchen says:

    Good morning, MM! I’ve always wondered if I feed our turkey with tanglad a week before slaughter, would it be well marinated by then?

    Just to clarify, the 22-kg piglet cooked for 90 minutes only? Did I get it right? Thanks.

    Gay

    Jun 23, 2008 | 6:31 am

     
  3. Marketman says:

    Gay, yes, 90 minutes, I was shocked too. But it was cooked through. Artisan, acually, I get the hibbie-jibbies with dinuguan still, I have a couple of posts on the phobia, so I didn’t make any of the dinuguans we ate… As for paksiw, I am usually headed back to manila once we get to that stage, but you might want to check out an old recipe I have for paksiw na lechon in the archives… it used some fresh thyme to very interesting results…

    Jun 23, 2008 | 6:57 am

     
  4. sister says:

    Looks picture perfect to me. Maybe there are different ways to achieve the requisite perfect mahogany colored crispy skin. Lola bought her piglets one month before your birthday so it would fat and healthy before lechon day.

    Jun 23, 2008 | 7:12 am

     
  5. kasseopeia says:

    Goodness, I never learn. I read BEFORE breakfast again. And lechon pa!

    This lechon looks much better than the first attempt. Visible pores or not, lechon skin is utterly divine!

    Whenever I get a hankering for lechon skin, my quick-fix is Aling Nene, a couple of blocks from our house. Though the skin isn’t as flavorful as I would want it to be, it’s still crisp and brown with a little bit of fat underneath. Besides, I can always dip in ginamos with calamansi.

    I wish I could have lechon for breakfast. Lechon and lechon skin inside a piece of pita, like a gyro. *drool*

    Jun 23, 2008 | 8:10 am

     
  6. quiapo says:

    It must be the variable rate of turning that has resulted in such fine lechon. There is often a problem in cooking the area around the shoulders, compared to the rest of the body – and is a major disadvantage in motorized spit roasts.
    Modern conveniences can ony go so far – nothing beats craftmanship.

    Jun 23, 2008 | 8:15 am

     
  7. thelma says:

    thanks for the tip, mm. we’re having lechon on our july 4th celebration. i shall be looking forward to cooking paksiw lechon from the leftover (if there’s any!). i have a lot of fresh thyme from my herb garden and i will use some for the paksiw na lechon. i haven’t done that before so i can’t wait to taste the outcome.

    Jun 23, 2008 | 8:16 am

     
  8. MasPinaSarap says:

    I just got back from the PI, and I wanted Lechon so bad! Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait until next time, yet again – and I don’t care the excuse, we’re having fresh Lechon made!

    I didn’t know coconuts are the key ingredient in the baste, although I have read that a pan should catch the dripping fat, and then be brushed onto the skin with banana leaves. Perhaps coconut water and the dripping fat together?
    You really can see skincells, the same that would make those nice fluffy puffs on Fil Chicharon. :)

    Jun 23, 2008 | 9:40 am

     
  9. pulutan says:

    Our thoughts and prayers for the families whose relatives perished when the Sulpicio Lines’ MV Princess of the Stars passenger vessel sank off Sibuyan Island in Romblon province at the height of typhoon Frank (international codename Fengshen).

    Jun 23, 2008 | 10:05 am

     
  10. sister says:

    Why doesn’t the President put Sulpicio Lines out of business? They have had more deaths and moremaritime disasters than any other ship linein the world.

    Jun 23, 2008 | 10:19 am

     
  11. sister says:

    Going back to the lechon- Peking duck is air dried, too to achieve that crispy, glossy skin. I guess it works for a pig, too.

    Jun 23, 2008 | 10:21 am

     
  12. presentacion says:

    the way you described how the lechon was cooked in detail is enough guide for anybody wishing to prepare one for oneself & the family during celebrations. i will note very well for a 22-kilo dressed pig + a good stuffing + 1 sack good charcoal + 90 minutes = 1 good lechon enough for 20 people. thank you MM for sharing this lechon edventure. very doable.

    Jun 23, 2008 | 12:11 pm

     
  13. Katrina says:

    I immediately noticed the pattern on the lechon skin, too! I’d never seen that before. Or maybe that’s because I eat it too quickly. ;-)

    Jun 23, 2008 | 2:03 pm

     
  14. Em Dy says:

    MM, I laughed out loud when I read you’re postponing the visit to the cardiologist. Are you sure he’s not reading your blog? Now i know why you want to remain anonymous. Ha ha ha.

    Jun 23, 2008 | 2:48 pm

     
  15. Bubut says:

    i was dreaming of eating lechon last Sunday while the storm Frank is hitting Manila.

    Jun 23, 2008 | 5:25 pm

     
  16. joey says:

    I’m going to dream about that photo of the skin tonight!

    Jun 23, 2008 | 5:46 pm

     
  17. B says:

    How did he adjust the height of the pig while roasting it? Did he tip it over on his side of the pole?

    This is pretty fascinating, though I don’t eat meat.

    Jun 23, 2008 | 6:28 pm

     
  18. zena says:

    The skin looks awesome! But the second picture of the sewn incision kind of freaks me a bit. Looks like something from Alien. =)

    Jun 23, 2008 | 8:30 pm

     
  19. nads says:

    That fat underneath the skin made my mouth water. Very sinful, but soooo worth it! :)

    I never knew that coconut juice was a vital ingredient to lechon. This was a very good read. :)

    Jun 23, 2008 | 8:36 pm

     
  20. Denise says:

    Crispy lechon in 90 minutes? wow

    MM I share your apprehension with dinuguan…I only ever ate the stuff if my great-grandmother was the one who cooked it, and now she’s gone, I haven’t eaten a hearty bowl of it

    Jun 23, 2008 | 9:35 pm

     
  21. annie says:

    you want the best lechon…MUST TRY…JOEY’S LECHON
    ONLY IN DAVAO… SUPER YUMMY ..EVEN THE SAUCE IS
    DELICIOSO!!!

    Jun 23, 2008 | 10:32 pm

     
  22. corrine says:

    That was a real fast cooking time I should say. My friend told me that her lola fed their small pig milk some weeks before the D-day of the pig. I wonder is it why they call it “lechon de leche?”

    Jun 23, 2008 | 11:02 pm

     
  23. noes says:

    i miss young coconut.

    Jun 24, 2008 | 12:17 am

     
  24. jdawgg says:

    Hey Marketman,

    Good Job, but quick question which type of pig did you use? Is it a male or female pig. My guess is it’s a male pig because on the second photo it looks like his testicles are still attached. Ha ha

    Jun 24, 2008 | 2:58 am

     
  25. Apicio says:

    Its deep dark caramel tan looks as though it has been shellacked in multiple coats. And the extremities that usually find themselves constantly exposed to the heat do not even show signs of scorching. Why the ears positively look like silk purses. I’ll give it a 10 for appearance.

    Could it be that the excessive fluid shed by the stuffing hampered the lechon rind from turning crisp all over? And the young coconut water baste, can it be more easily applied with a gardener’s atomizer?

    Too much shedding of water of the vegetable stuffing can be actually lessened by salting and letting sit to drain first or taking it from the French with their way with aromatics as in preliminary sautéing of mirepoix.

    Jdawgg, reserve your power of observation till Market Man posts his pictures of Greek art.

    Jun 24, 2008 | 3:03 am

     
  26. jdawgg says:

    Marketman,

    I guess it’s ok to use a male pig when it’s still at a young age because my lolo always says that when you use an older male pig for consumption they tend to have a funny smell specially the ones that are used for breeding. They are not neutered or cirmcusised. Mabaho ang amoy.

    Jun 24, 2008 | 3:05 am

     
  27. navyGOLF says:

    Cebu lechon is the best, MM!!! No need for Mang Tomas sarsa, just patis(which is toyo or soy sauce in visayas and viceversa, not sure if you noticed that) calamansi and sili, wow Champion! It also goes well with ginamos (or bagoong isda in visayas, their version of balayan or panggasinan bagoong but slightly aged than their luzon counterparts) and calamansi would be a great complement. Whenever we have family celebrations we order a huge cebu lechon for only 3000-3500php and have it packed/ flown here in Manila for around 250php. The overall cost is still cheaper than buying it in Manila.

    Jun 24, 2008 | 3:30 am

     
  28. Marketman says:

    navyGOLF, yes I am partial to cebu lechons, but I do like the liver sauce too. jdawgg, gosh, i never wondered if it was a male or a female, and on closer inspection, if the “bulge” in the groin were gonads or just as a result of the sewing… Apicio, you are reading my mind, I thought of pre-sauteeing the stuffing too. And putting less of it to prevent the excessive liquid. The spritzing of coconut water sounds like an excellent idea as well. corrine, lechon de leche literally refers to a baby pig still suckling milk from its mother… shouldn’t be more than 3-4 weeks old, I would guess. This pig must have been 8-10 weeks or so already… B, the lechonero lifted the pole out of the groove in the sides of the lechonan, and would rest it on the ledge or add pieces of wood to increase the distance from the coals. sister, yes, the air-drying helps a lot, I think.

    Jun 24, 2008 | 7:12 am

     
  29. zena says:

    navyGOLF, may i ask for your contacts when ordering lechon in Cebu? We usually buy the Cebu-style from Elar’s and yes, it still comes out more expensive.

    Jun 24, 2008 | 10:51 am

     
  30. natie says:

    YUM!! gorgeous-colored lechon,MM! i like the more mature piggy. the flesh has more substance (chew..)

    Jun 24, 2008 | 11:32 am

     
  31. witsandnuts says:

    I terribly miss lechon. I have been depriving myself of pork since I came here in the Gulf. The crispy pata and lechons here (rarely served) don’t taste as good as those back home.

    Jun 24, 2008 | 3:15 pm

     
  32. clomper says:

    Grabe.. kakagutom.. nakaka-miss din ang lechon! You eat some and then lechon paksiw ni lola.. *sigh* hanggang Beijing Duck lang ako dito!

    Jun 24, 2008 | 3:48 pm

     
  33. Cumin says:

    Like B, I too don’t eat meat but I still have fun reading MM’s meat recipes. Last year a lechon was in the boot of the car for the 2.5 hour drive to the beach. The aroma of garlic, lemongrass, and star anise drove me crazy, I came very close to succumbing! Thanks, MM, for sharing all these culinary experiments and travel posts.

    Jun 24, 2008 | 8:15 pm

     
  34. eva says:

    Hi MM,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months now. Please keep up with the great posts! I stopped eating meat quite some time ago, but your posts on lechon bring back great childhood memories.

    Also, if you haven’t read the frugaltraveler series of articles on the nytimes website yet, check out the latest one entitled “Wandering Beyond Classic Rome” (http://frugaltraveler.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/18/wandering-beyond-classic-rome). It reminds me of your posts on your trip to Greece.

    Jun 26, 2008 | 2:03 am

     
  35. dhayL says:

    I love lechon skin, balat pa lang ulam na! The other day i made some lechon kawali, I got home just before 12 midnight from work, I was hungry and my daughter is still awake, she got curious to what mommy was eating, so i gave her some and she only wanted the skin, she liked it so much and almost finished the whole thing herself!

    Jun 26, 2008 | 7:46 am

     
  36. Candygirl says:

    Wow, didn’t think making lechon would be so toxic. In Manila we get our ‘cebu’ style lechon from Hecky’s.

    Jun 26, 2008 | 9:56 am

     
  37. navyGOLF says:

    zena, we usually order from CNT, its very popular in Cebu. There’s also one along Mango drive before you hit Fuente Osmena, sorry forgot the name. Enjoy!

    Jun 27, 2008 | 7:18 am

     
  38. zena says:

    thanks, navyGolf. =)

    Jun 27, 2008 | 9:59 am

     
  39. Craig says:

    Wish I was back in the P.I. I ordered one from local restaraunt here in San Diego. It will not be like the ones back in the P.I. Last time I was in Cebu we ate about 8 Lechon’s in 14 days.

    Jun 29, 2008 | 12:09 pm

     
  40. littlewoman says:

    hi! just a friendly tip. you can add lemongrass for stuffing in the lechon. Oh and by the way, the best lechon i’ve tasted so far is not from cebu. its from this small city in mindanao called ozamiz.

    Jun 30, 2008 | 5:25 am

     
  41. Marketman says:

    littlewoman, yes, lemongrass or tanglad is a common addition to the stuffing in Cebu, however, this particular lechonero felt it made the final product too “common” like lechon manok. So his version didn’t have it. If you checked the earlier version 1, or other posts on lechon in the archives, they do mention the lemongrass… I’m sure there are brilliant lechons cooked all over the Philippine archipelago, and I think the key is eating it witin 30 minutes of its coming off the fire, because longer than that the quality degrades quickly in my opinion…

    Jun 30, 2008 | 7:49 am

     
 

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