13 Jul2010

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For several years I have avoided roasting the youngest of piglets, true or just days after “suckling pigs” at 5-6 weeks old or less. I thought about it seriously here, when I spotted these little munchkins in large baskets, for sale at a livestock market in Mantalongon, Barili, Cebu. They were still grouped as a litter and I suspect just separated from their mother hours before… A part of me believed (and still does) that the skin of older piglets with some crunch and substance was preferable to the paper thin variety. However, the meat of the lechon de leche is probably or theoretically paler, sweeter and juicier. Our recent meal at Sobrino de Botin, and tasting their cochinillo asado, convinced me to have a go at cooking my own…

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The piglet we purchased was a week or two older than I would have wanted, with a live weight of 6-7 kilos. It resulted in a cleaned weight of roughly 4-4.5 kilos. We still don’t have that wood fired brick oven that I have wishing for for years so we were going to roast the little pig over a charcoal fire. That is the first huge difference. The Spanish cochinillos are done in ovens, sitting on clay or steel pans, and unstuffed but seasoned inside and basted every so often with the natural fat and juices, along with olive oil and in some cases, butter. Experimenting on an open fire could mean potentially drying out the meat, but it was a risk I was willing to take. If the experiment failed, I would just have to start building that darned brick oven… :)

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In this attempt, the stomach and rib cavity was left open rather than sewn up. I seasoned the cavity of the pig with salt and pepper, thyme and rosemary, olive oil. The skin was massaged with olive oil and sprinkled with salt (do NOT use iodized salt). It looked a bit bizarre in our makeshift roasting contraption, almost like a flying pig actually.

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I was a bit concerned that the turning radius of the spit was quite large and the pig had to sit a little further away from the charcoal than usual. We covered the ears with foil to prevent premature burning, and roasted away for half an hour or so…

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After half an hour, we took the pig off the coals, and I slathered the entire animal with unsalted butter. I did this in the belly as well. It was already smelling rather scrumptious at this point.

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Back onto the charcoal flames for say another half hour, during which the skin started to turn a naturally caramelized color. This was perfect for us. If you prefer those deep brown or burgundy lechons popular from commercial sources, you should know they are probably not totally natural (sometimes painted with soy sauce, or sugared water, or liquor and sugar, etc.).

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While roasting, I noticed that there didn’t seem to be too much liquid dripping from the lechon. In fact, we never once had a flare up in the coals, a sign of minimal fat in the young piglet. However, as I watched the rib cavity, it did seem as though it was drying up just a bit, but the proof would be at the table…

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After 30 minutes (or 1 hour total cooking time so far), we removed the pig from the flames again, and slathered it with more unsalted butter all over its body, then returned it to the flames for another 20-25 minutes or so.

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A quick check of the meat in the thighs and near the neck with pin pricks yielded no blood or pinkish liquid, so we took this off the flames at roughly 85 minutes and brought it to the kitchen. After about 10 minutes of resting time it was ready for the table. It looked terrific and smelled even better.

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The first test would be the “can you cut it with a plate” challenge. The answer? Absolutely YES. Starting at the butt, a small salad plate with blunt edges was rolled up the spine of the lechon and the skin yielded readily and cracked all the way up the lechon. Bits of skin shattered along the way, and our excitement was palpable.

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We had several square inches of the skin, the lechonero who cooked it getting first dibs, and everyone’s eyes rolled upward as we munched on superb skin, thin and light, and just nicely salted. It definitely did not have the substance of the larger lechons, but this was special in its own way.

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But the real surprise was the meat, still incredibly succulent, juicy and yes, almost sweet tasting. Not quite as juicy as the cochinillo in Spain, done in an oven, but not a far cry either. Older pork has a bit of an aftertaste, possibly due to the feed it consumes, but this lechon de leche was just wonderful. The tiny ribs were amongst the finest I have ever eaten. I saved some of this lechon de leche and brought it back to Manila so Mrs. MM and the Teen could taste it, refried, and it was still noticeably different than our standard lechons. You could say we are all huge fans of it at this point. I still want to experiment with an oven-cooked version, but overall I would consider this experiment a resounding success!!!

 

COMMENTS:

  1. kim says:

    i can still see the lil one running loose at your yard :'(

    Jul 13, 2010 | 6:27 am

     
  2. EJ says:

    It’s half past midnight, I’ve just got back from a wonderful 5-course dinner at Envy here in Amsterdam yet this lechon de leche is calling out, “Eat me, taste me…”.

    Jul 13, 2010 | 6:35 am

     
  3. Lerker says:

    I feel sorry for the little piggies. :( But they taste oh so yummy. :( Conflicted.

    Jul 13, 2010 | 6:55 am

     
  4. junb says:

    Hmmm yummy !!!! Does it mean you will build a brick oven with a rotating surface for the lechon de leche :). Any suggested sauce comes with it?

    Jul 13, 2010 | 7:38 am

     
  5. junb says:

    Oh by spain tradition you are supposed to throw away the plate in the floor after cutting the lechon de leche :)

    Jul 13, 2010 | 7:41 am

     
  6. Bubut says:

    did you prick the skin to make it more crunchy the way you did in the big lechons?

    Jul 13, 2010 | 7:54 am

     
  7. Footloose says:

    The promise made by the makers of upmarket ovens such as La Cornue which are vaulted, hermetically sealed and provided with heat sources capable of rapid buildup and even distribution are shorter cooking time, better heat control and retention of juices and flavors but I wonder though how much the breed, diet and general condition of those suckers account for the difference in flavor and texture of the roasted product.

    I seriously looked into acquiring a brick wood-fired oven once but laid aside my quest when I learned that they have to be preheated ever so gradually over a long period of time (practically the day before you are supposed to bake in it) which was easily trumped by the convection oven I finally acquired that only needed fifteen minutes of preheating. It will probably make sense with you not as a hobby horse but principally for use in your Zubuchon venture.

    Jul 13, 2010 | 7:55 am

     
  8. Divine G. says:

    Lechon is good but lechon de leche is the better if not the best. How I wish I could taste your Zubuchon or zubuleche.

    Jul 13, 2010 | 8:08 am

     
  9. gabby says:

    looks like cochinillo asado..very tempting.

    Jul 13, 2010 | 8:09 am

     
  10. zena says:

    Aaaaargh! I am seriously craving for lechon! I’ll even settle for fried liempo or pork belly! Asa pa ako that I’ll find it the way we do it in the Phils in my little corner of the world.

    Jul 13, 2010 | 8:18 am

     
  11. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    Your BTC crew were all talking about it last Sunday. Looking forward to being invited to your next roasted suckling pig experiment!!! ;->

    Here’s a site were you can download (for free) the blueprints for an italian wood fired oven.
    http://www.fornobravo.com/store/Pompeii-Oven-Instruction-e-Book-pdf-p-16249.html

    Jul 13, 2010 | 9:25 am

     
  12. millet says:

    does this mean zubuleche will soon become a regular zubuchon product? looking forward!

    Jul 13, 2010 | 9:37 am

     
  13. Marketman says:

    millet, at this point, no plans to introduce this yet as a product. With skin so thin, it SHOULD be eaten within 30-45 minutes after coming off the flames, and that is hard to do unless it is served in a restaurant or near the cooking pits… :) Artisan, thanks for the link. Footloose, yes, a proper wood fired brick oven is a lot of work. Roasts at one point of the day could turn to pan de sal or other baked goods later in the day… still dreaming… Bubut, no, these were not pricked like the larger lechons.

    Jul 13, 2010 | 9:50 am

     
  14. Mom-Friday says:

    It does look juicy! Now I’m craving…
    Congratulations on your first “flying pig” Zubuleche!

    Jul 13, 2010 | 11:16 am

     
  15. kitongzki says:

    oh man… that sure looks yummy… but I feel sorry for the lil’ piggy for his short lived life… But I would definitely eat that coz I’m a carnivore! lol….

    Jul 13, 2010 | 11:24 am

     
  16. charlie says:

    Mr. MM while reading your post tonight I got very excited was looking forward to a Zubuleche this coming Sept while I’m in Manila…. Until you said “at this point, no plans to introduce this yet as a product”, I have to settle for a Zubuchon one more time still an excellent choice.

    Jul 13, 2010 | 12:09 pm

     
  17. www.triportreats.com says:

    Omg this makes me want to make my own Zubuleche! My dad has a herd or Baboy Damo (wild boar), which also taste good when it becomes lechon’d. I wonder if this recipe/instruction of yours will work as well as your does.

    And by the way, I frequent Cebu for work and I always see the Zubuchon at the airport. The cuapao version is delicious!

    Jul 13, 2010 | 12:25 pm

     
  18. ziggy says:

    i was actually itching for this and i was thinking, if the guy is on spain and all those european trips, when is he going to make that lechon de leche? but that was just a primer…

    truly wonderful. i want to sink my teeth in this ASAP.

    i love the calm and “not guilty” narration. but then of course it is food. it doesn’t matter what goes in your mouth, what matters is what goes out of that mouth, isn’t it? and it ended up with you thinking of killing another piglet. you ms muffet killer you!

    Jul 13, 2010 | 12:34 pm

     
  19. Quillene says:

    the skin color on the head part seems paler than the rest of the pig. But this post has me looking longingly at that succulent oinkster! :P

    Jul 13, 2010 | 1:46 pm

     
  20. millet says:

    so the only way to savor this would be through a zubuleche eyeball (hint, hint…) ;-)

    the last picture made me forget totally about how cute the spotted little piggy was.

    Jul 13, 2010 | 2:32 pm

     
  21. hungrycurious says:

    you had me at slathered with butter… heaven!

    Jul 13, 2010 | 3:57 pm

     
  22. Clarissa says:

    I’m no vegetarian but i feel sad for the poor piglet. but i’m sure once it’s served to me cooked and as good, i will attack it with no control whatsoever :)

    i want my own lechon area to experiment with :D

    Jul 13, 2010 | 4:47 pm

     
  23. kayenne says:

    i’ve been wanting to try that last christmas, but having suddenly been called away to work late last year until this summer, the thought flew off my mind.

    a live weight of 4kg would probably fit in my oven… the question remaining was where to find a good source here in manila?

    hmmm… could you possibly ask a pugon baker for use of their oven?

    Jul 13, 2010 | 5:42 pm

     
  24. Mari says:

    Could you please let me know why “do NOT use iodized salt”

    Jul 13, 2010 | 6:01 pm

     
  25. passive observer says:

    literally drooling now…

    Jul 13, 2010 | 6:10 pm

     
  26. Marketman says:

    Mari, I find that iodized salt tastes distinctly of the added iodine. The iodine is added for health reasons (to prevent goiter, etc.) if you don’t have a healthy diet. If you smell an iodized table salt against a pure sea salt blindfolded, you should be able to discern the chemically fragrance of iodine… if you are going to great lengths to find a great suckling pig, and use other fine herbs and spices, don’t undermine it with iodized salt… or at least that’s how I would see it. :)

    Jul 13, 2010 | 6:13 pm

     
  27. Footloose says:

    Picky-picky, cochinillo de asado in the first paragraph does not sound right. Could you have meant simply, cochinillo asado?

    Jul 13, 2010 | 6:32 pm

     
  28. Marketman says:

    Footloose, you are right, it has been edited, thanks.

    Jul 13, 2010 | 7:41 pm

     
  29. jack says:

    looks yummy! though i didn’t grew up eating lechon that much (I only remembered to have eaten lechon when we attend parties hosted by our relatives from Bohol)… i’d like to try and taste your zubuchon or zubuleche one day :)

    Jul 13, 2010 | 8:01 pm

     
  30. solraya says:

    I order Cochinillo from Dulcelin. We stay very near them, that we are able to serve this to guests off the oven :)

    Jul 13, 2010 | 9:08 pm

     
  31. natie says:

    looks perfect to me..YUM!!

    Jul 13, 2010 | 9:45 pm

     
  32. Pia says:

    At the last Food Expo at the World Trade Center last month, there was a guy selling Filipino-made brick ovens. He uses charcoal for fuel, and the demo unit at the exhibit was pretty impressive – the temperature was upwards of 500 degrees.

    Jul 13, 2010 | 10:11 pm

     
  33. Jake Speed says:

    Hi MM, do you think there would be a prominent difference in taste, texture and appearance of the skin if you slathered the lechon de leche with olive oil instead of unsalted butter?

    Jul 14, 2010 | 12:04 am

     
  34. Wills says:

    “A quick check of the meat in the thighs and near the neck with pin pricks yielded no blood or pinkish liquid, so we took this off the flames at roughly 85 minutes and brought it to the kitchen.” — I was just surprised that a meat thermometer was NOT used to make sure the lechon is safe to eat. I guess that’s how lechon is cooked as I remember it – no meat thermometers, etc. A little bit scary – living on the edge, but a gastronomic extravaganza!

    Jul 14, 2010 | 12:16 am

     
  35. binky says:

    i want to do this myself. Unfortunately, i dont know how to secure the pig to the bamboo spit, i believe this involves breaking some of the pig’s joints/bones?

    Jul 14, 2010 | 1:05 am

     
  36. FestiveRebel says:

    Looks like an extra large version of “Cuy” from Peru. Yum???

    Jul 14, 2010 | 5:20 am

     
  37. Footloose says:

    FestiveRevel, hindi naman. If it was much smaller, yes. The only time my sense of food adventure abandoned me was when confronted by a buck-teethed roasted cuy. There was absolutely no question of keeping it down since it never got close enough to my mouth.

    Jul 14, 2010 | 6:26 am

     
  38. Connie C says:

    Footloose, you did not miss anything. There is hardly any meat in a cuy. You end up trying to dissect the strand of muscles off the tiny bones to justify the soles you paid for it.

    Jul 14, 2010 | 8:34 am

     
  39. EbbaBlue says:

    MM, please tell us when you construct your wood fired brick oven. I myself is thinking of having one made in my house in Quezon Province. As I love to have lechon on my annual visit to Philippines, I wanted to have it done in this kind of oven. This year though my 40 kilos pig was roasted better for I hired a professional lechonero, unlike last year, its my cousin and several neighbors (who wanted to show off that they can make a good lechon), who did it, and it was halfly burned but still raw inside. And thanks for telling us about the iodized salt, I think that is what they used in my lechon.. I can really tell that certain flavor. And.. yeah… they put alot of msg… I forgot to tell them not to. Next year, I will supervise the cooking.

    Jul 14, 2010 | 10:49 am

     
  40. lee says:

    My most recent Lipid profile as of this morning reports an increase in total and LDL (Bad) cholesterol levels and I still have not had batchoy at 21 yet. I had a few bites of mediocre lechon from a wedding last week and it was horrible.

    Jul 14, 2010 | 1:23 pm

     
  41. Franky says:

    huh. now i know what to eat so i can winter well.

    Jul 14, 2010 | 2:27 pm

     
  42. Mary Kim says:

    MM, I’ve been trying skewers in a gas grill and hopefully I can do a version of this one using meat chunks. :)

    Jul 14, 2010 | 3:58 pm

     
  43. Mary Kim says:

    last week I saw two korean versions of lechon–a pig cooked over hot charcoal flames enclosed in a vertical drum and the other pig cooked using charcoal and gas inside a viking like dome shaped stainless steel and one big pole. Both done at a beach party.

    Jul 14, 2010 | 4:05 pm

     
  44. RexTremendae says:

    Question, in what way does the iodized salt affect the taste or the quality of the lechon?

    Jul 14, 2010 | 8:03 pm

     
  45. Marketman says:

    Rex, I answered that in a comment above. To reiterate, for me, it’s simply the off-taste of iodine. I don’t typically use iodized salt at all in any of our food if possible. I figure we eat a healthy variety of foods so that added iodine is unnecessary in our diets. I don’t think iodine will affect the quality of the food, just the taste. If you are really curious, you might want to wade through this article that suggests iodine has minimal effects on the quality of most foods. But nevertheless, I don’t like iodized salt on my food. Nor do I think it is smart for governments to dictate that all locally produced salt MUST be iodized. For me, iodine smells medicinal.

    Jul 14, 2010 | 8:15 pm

     
  46. Lava Bien says:

    @ Footloose, you’re right, it simply means grilled, ie carne “asada” (grilled steak), pollo asado (grilled chicken) so like chicken adobo would be pollo adobado in Spanish.

    Pienso que intiendes español ey? Vale! Venga!

    Jul 15, 2010 | 12:48 am

     
  47. pia l. says:

    Here is where I disagree with you MM. The median indicator for iodine levels in children, pregnant and lactating women significantly increased from 1998 to 2003, and this increase is attributed to the more widespread use of iodized salt as mandated by the ASIN law. So from a public health perspective, I do not see any reason why we should stop requiring salt producers from iodizing their salt.

    Jul 15, 2010 | 5:12 am

     
  48. Marketman says:

    pia, I don’t mind iodized salt for those who need it in their diets, i.e., those with less food variety, and ultimately, less food period. But from a NON-ESSENTIAL perspective, and for those with normal diets with a variety of foods, salt with iodine is superfluous. I understand a huge proportion of the Philippine population is undernourished or malnourished and does not get essential vitamins and minerals…but I could argue that is mostly due to too many people having kids when they can’t afford to feed them proper diets, as well as too little variety in their diets. A person would have sufficient natural iodine if they ate fish or a bit of seaweed ONCE a week. And since some 80-90% of our population probably lives on the coastlines or within an hour of the coastlines, having fish once a week should not be an issue at all. Iodine naturally occurs in some vegetables as well. If we were to carry this discussion further, then the Philippine government should perhaps mandate ONLY breastfed milk for the first year of a baby’s life and ban powdered milk, as such a mandate would probably be even better than requiring iodized salt. And it would probably slow overall national population growth. Give consumers a choice is all I am saying. Insisting that all locally produced salt is iodized is just silly and merely a band aid (albeit a useful band aid) to a much bigger problem. We could also insist that a cocktail of vitamins and minerals be added to each packet of instant noodles, why not… People need to eat real food, and a variety of it. Then they wouldn’t need supplements of anything. :)

    Jul 15, 2010 | 7:09 am

     
  49. quiapo says:

    May I suggest that the small pigs may fit in a Weber? You can use indirect heat with the charcoal not under the pig. The smoked taste may be a revelation!
    A great article, classic Marketman!!!

    Jul 15, 2010 | 7:36 am

     
  50. pia l. says:

    Well, actually, the government’s plan here is three pronged: diet diversification, food fortification, and micronutrient supplementation. If I remember the right, the plan is to continue micronutrient supplementation as long as both diet diversification and food fortification has not been fully realized. In other words, we’re not actually planning to have micronutrient supplementation forever, but sort of to bridge the gap until there comes a time that everyone’s eating healthy enough that we won’t need it anymore. In any case, I think a variety of instant noodles are already fortified with vitamins and minerals. Sorry for hijacking your post, it’s just that I worked in public health once for a short time, and micronutrient supplementation was a project that we were working on :)

    Jul 15, 2010 | 7:39 am

     
  51. Marketman says:

    pia, you aren’t hijacking at all. It’s great to bring issues like this to the forefront. And yes, I like the three-pronged approach you describe. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think supplementation is bad at all, in fact it works for most of the target population, but I don’t think it should apply to ALL locally produced salt.

    Jul 15, 2010 | 7:55 am

     
  52. Vicky Go says:

    Congrats! Another successful “yummy” experiment!

    Jul 16, 2010 | 8:31 am

     
  53. ifoodtrip.com says:

    Iodized salt has that lingering after taste that stays in the tongue. It does not have a clean taste. I always use quality sea salt (flamingo brand from sicily). Sea salt is more expensive than commercial iodized salt so it is not for mass consumption unlike iodized salt.

    Speaking of salt, this Philippine sea salt (http://www.philippineseasalts.com) is offered at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and its not available for the Philippine local market. tsk tsk,

    Jul 16, 2010 | 5:53 pm

     
  54. KUMAGCOW says:

    You had me at ZUBULECHE LOL

    Jul 21, 2010 | 6:24 am

     
  55. www.triportreats.com says:

    Hey Market Man! I’m going to roast my own lechon de leche tomorrow in my Oven! Any tips? Such as, what temperature should I set it, and for how long?

    I like your stripped down version, but I wanna stuff it with onion leeks and lemongrass and tamarind leaves, any suggestions?

    Good Luck to Me!

    Aug 1, 2010 | 2:23 am

     
  56. Marketman says:

    trip to eats, you may want to cover the ears and tail. Put some water liquid at the bottom of the pan at the start of cooking to keep the pig moist, but the water should evaporate by about an hour of cooking, at say maybe 350-375F. Then maybe increase the heat to crisp it all up when it is almost finished. I would baste with olive oil/butter. But I have NEVER done this in an oven so maybe its best to check out other on-line recipes for lechon de leche or cochinillo asado.

    Aug 1, 2010 | 7:08 am

     
  57. www.triportreats.com says:

    Hmm… I was thinking of putting the pig on the grill rack and putting a pan underneath to catch the drippings. But I’ll try that version of yours. Let you know how it goes!

    Thanks!
    Trip or Treats

    Aug 1, 2010 | 10:51 am

     
 

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