The term paksiw is a bit schizophrenicâ€¦ when used with fish or denizens of the sea, it means to cook with vinegar and some spices and vegetables and the resulting brothy concoction is superb with tons of rice. Everyone has their favorite type of fish, whether bilong-bilong, those flat silvery fish, bangus (milkfish) or even apahap (sea bass). It is a very healthy dish as it is high in protein and good oils and generally low in fat. When applied to meats, however, paksiw not only means cooking with vinegar but often with sugar, soy sauce and in the case of paksiw na lechon, liver sauce. The resulting stews are often dark, substantial, artery clogging and absolutely delicious, also great with lots of rice! Take out your tooth floss as we explore paksiw na lechon a la Marketmanâ€¦
As a kid, I recall many occasions when there was a lechon in the house. First was a birthday of a sibling or my parents. My grandmother used to arrange for a nice Cebu lechon to be cooked in the early morning, picked up and wrapped and delivered to the Cebu airport for the first flight to Manila. This would get picked up and whisked home to become the centerpiece of a weekend lunch. More than the pig, I remember the old envelopes she used to tuck into the package with my name on it â€“ usually a brief note in an incredibly distinctive script and PHP20 or so tucked in there for me to get a goody of some sort. With all that handling, transportation, etc, the pig was a big soggy. So while we all made the motions to be thrilled to have a lechon, I always thought to myself… “whatâ€™s the big deal?” Therefore, it doesnâ€™t come as a surprise to me that I actually like paksiw na lechon more than lechon itself (in most cases, exceptions described below).
My momâ€™s version was a bit watery and the meat was shredding from being stewed for ages. I recently tried the following recipe which would qualify as being a bit more on the â€œsophisticatedâ€ side but it was equally delicious. Base proportions are from a recipe of Enriqueta David-Perez but I have made changes. Start with 1.5 kilos of leftover lechon, mostly meat and skin. Add 1.5 cups of cider or native vinegar, 5 tablespoons of soy sauce, some salt, several cloves of garlic, whole peppercorns and 3 laurel (bay) leaves. I then added 3 tablespoons of the most fantastic organic muscovado sugar, one whole cinnamon stick and five sprigs of fresh thyme (substitute a smidgen of ground cinnamon or dried thyme if necessary). Boil on medium heat in a covered heavy casserole until meat is somewhat tender. Add a bit of water if it seems to be drying out. Then add 1.5-2.5 cups of lechon sauce (liver sauce) and let this cook until tender. Serve with steamed rice. Delicious! The muscovado and cinnamon gave this that little edge over the more basic recipe. The color was also stunning. I removed the cinnamon stick after 15 minutes to achieve a subtle flavor, not overpowering. The thyme worked surprisingly well. Tastes great when reheated as well, even better with my tart achara.
Now, what are those exceptions to the not keen on lechon rule? We have friends who know how to do lechon right. In their backyard they have a lechon roasting pit and the pig(s) are gently turned on a spit until perfect, then rushed to the buffet table sizzling hot. As you peel humongous sections of hot lechon skin, steam is still escaping from the butt of the pig. That is keyâ€¦ the skin is superb and at its best when the steam is still escaping from the buttâ€¦remember that bit of Marketman wisdom! Dip the skin in either liver sauce or just patis (fish sauce) and kalamansi (calamondin) and I am in lechon skin heaven. The meat tastes great as well but give me 72 square inches (1/2 square foot) of lechon skin done right and I will be one happy camper for the rest of the week!