We were celebrating four birthdays at the family office in Cebu last week, so attempting Lechon #4 seemed timely. If you have been following my recent series called the “Lechon Chronicles,” you would be well aware of my quest for a terrific lechon with good flavor and incredibly crisp skin. And hopefully, with no commercial tricks like the use of sinigang cubes, lots of sugared water or soda basted on the skin, MSG, etc. But let me take you back a year or two… and click this link to an earlier post outlining what qualities I thought (at that point in time) the best lechon in the Philippines should have… The most glaring quality that has come under personal review is that the skin of the lechon must be smooth (in addition to the skin being crisp and the meat incredibly flavorful). Perhaps 90-95% of city dwellers DO NOT MAKE their own lechons, but rather, are happy to order it from a commercial or semi-commercial source. And I have noticed that over the past 30+years, more and more of these commercial lechons seem to have a slowly evolving, incredibly crisp, hard, often “shellacqued” quality to them. And since they represent the vast majority of lechons consumed in the city, I suspect that the commercial version is driving our modern preferences and tastes…
This healthy skepticism towards mass-produced lechons has led me to try my own hand at cooking a lechon “in the backyard”, and the lessons learned so far with just four pigs under my belt, seem priceless to me. I am increasingly of the opinion that MANY commercial lechons probably employ shortcuts or tricks, and while that may not bother most of their patrons, it is something that WOULD bother me. Throughout the life of this blog I have always tried to cook dishes with as much fresh and natural ingredients as possible, though I admit to having used an occasional shortcut. The main areas for commercial lechon tricks are in the source of concentrated and highly salted flavorings for the stomach… often in the form of instant sinigang powder or cubes, rife with artificial and natural flavors, MSG, etc. This is often rubbed into the cavity of the pig, and while it does result in incredible flavor bang for the buck, I think I can often distinguish a lechon which has used this trick. The flavor near the stomach is unnaturally sharp and intense, and my tongue practically tingles from overstimulation. The fragrance from the stomach cavity is sharp, not naturally fragrant. On the skin, to get a uniformly crisp result, I think some places use what is the equivalent of a sugar/salt wash that serves to help caramelize the skin, provide flavor and crispness. As for the turning, commercial operators use machines to turn their lechons, which takes away the personal touch and close eye that traditional lechoneros employ to achieve their personal versions of lechon. But these are mostly my conjecture and opinion, and hopefully readers who sell lechons commercially will correct me as they perhaps only sell “naturally” crisp lechons… How they remain crisp for several hours after they come off the coals, when all backyard versions we have tried seem to fail that task miserably (as did all of the ones my grandmother’s lechoneros made and shipped to Manila on PAL cargo holds), is a mystery that will simply remain unexplained… :)
So does the skin of the ideal Marketman lechon HAVE to be smooth? I would have said yes up until the “SLITCHON” that I cooked with slits down the side that resulted in incredibly crisp crackling and lechon skin that was music to my tastebuds. My objective for Round 4 was to attempt to get the most mouthwatering, crisp, texturally engaging and flavorful skin I possibly could… and the results? A self-rated 9.60-9.75 out of a possible 10.00, or pretty darned good, in my biased opinion. And some 85+% of the entire skin surface of the pig was incredibly crisp for up to 45+ minutes after it came off of the fire! So now I would be willing to say that EITHER a totally smooth and crisp lechon skin OR a less conventional, rough and texturally shocking skin, COULD score a Marketman 9.50 or higher rating, it would simply be a matter of choice which version I would choose to eat on a given day…
This is how we cooked Lechon # 4. The 35 kilogram live weight pig (the biggest we have ever used) was first stuffed with a mixture of seasonings nearly identical to attempt #3, with garlic, peppercorns, lemongrass, chillies, onions, lemons, salt, thyme and rosemary. The only miscalculation here was the continued struggle to put enough salt. I always fear I will over do it, but it is hard to put too much salt. And at perhaps 22-25 kilos of meat after it was cleaned, the volume of salt needed would probably exceed a good cup or two of sea salt. Once the pig was all sewn up and on the spit, we took about 8 of the largest sized home sewing needles and with four people total, we lightly pricked the entire surface (except face) of the carcass with the pins, taking care to just break through the skin and go some 1/8th to 1/4th of an inch deep into the underlying fat. I didn’t want to reach the meat, only the fat. Now where did I get this idea? From one of my current favorite television chefs, Emmanuel Stroobant of the “Chef in Black” of the Asian Food Channel, who did an episode that featured Chinese Roast Pork Belly. He detailed a frequently used trick or method of the Chinese chefs who prick the skin of their pork belly and roast it until it is incredibly crispy. I had also read many months ago how the roast suckling pig in Chinese restaurants were made, with a similar pin pricking procedure. And a comment or two on previous lechon attempts also mentioned the pin treatment. So it was not original idea, but it is certainly the first time I have ever come across someone applying the concept to an entire pig on a spit.
One of the things I love about this blog is that it has egged me on to do more than a home cook would normally do. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I knew this experiment COULD have been an utter failure, and with a PHP4,000 pig as the base ingredient, it would have been a costly mistake. But this is precisely the reason that few folks stray from tried and proven methods… for fear of failure. But once you liberate yourself from that form of tunnel vision, the resulting freedom to try new things (within some bounds of reason), can more often than not, lead to simply spectacular if not “breakthrough” results. I often share my successes with you all, sometimes the failures, though some disasters have been relegated to a locked and secure area of my psyche!
Once we had pricked the pig all over, at say 1/2 inch intervals on average on all parts of the skin except the head, we massaged the skin with some olive oil, added some kosher salt and lots of dried rosemary and thyme. We put the lechon over a HOT fire with about a sack worth of charcoal and within minutes there were little popping and cracking sounds, as air or whatever came bursting out of the pin holes, starting the process of blistering the skin. At some point, huge sections of the skin puffed up and I feared a massive explosion, along the lines of the recent Qantas cargo blowout on a flight that did an emergency landing in Manila a few weeks ago, but swift adjustments by the guys turning the bamboo pole made sure that not a single bubble burst. As the pig turned on the hot fire for 15 minutes, the cracking sounds were clearly a unique aspect of this attempt, as we had heard nothing like in in the previous 3 pigs!
AFter about 45 minutes, the cracking stopped and the skin looked like this photo up above. By about an hour, I had a really good feeling that things were going to work out just fine…
At this point, I regretted not pricking the head of the pig as well, as it did not brown as evenly as the rest of the lechon. Besides the cracking sounds, a little bit of oil kept emerging from the pin pricks and slowly self-basted the lechon for the entire 2 hour cooking period. As this happened, a natural air pocket or cushion formed between the puffed skin and the fat underneath it, which I think helped to crisp the skin even further!
At about 1 hour and 45 minutes, I pricked the skin with a needle tied to a bamboo stick and the skin was just so INCREDIBLY CRISP on nearly EVERY part of the pig. I thought I would need to pin prick the lechon about an hour into cooking but it wasn’t necessary at all. While the pig looked cooked, I was worried that because of its size, it might need a little more time on the fire.
At two hours, we decided to take the lechon off the fire and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before we tasted the skin. The verdict? In my opinion, possibly the crispest lechon skin I have ever eaten. But more than crisp, it had a puffed texture. It had good mouth feel and didn’t seem that oily or greasy. It was “lighter” than a traditional piece of skin. And it was just gorgeous. It could have had more salt, and I will remove the herbs in the next attempt as they are easily mistaken for pig hairs and otherwise burn up, but this was just incredible lechon skin, despite it NOT being the smooth brown skin most folks associate with a pinoy style lechon.
Most of the office crew did not seem bothered by the rough texture of the skin, and while they may not have expressed totally frank opinions for fear of their boss crossing his eyes, I am counting on Artisan Chocolatier to comment on this lechon as he was present with his family that day to taste Lechon # 4. they arrived about 45 minutes after the pig was taken off the fire, so I am curious for his views on the pig, positive or negative… :)
Breaking off nice large crisp pieces of crackling or skin while the steam was still coming out of the butt was such a thrill in and off itself, the whole experiment done in our “back yard,” but the crispness of the skin was just mind-boggling.
And my rating on attempt # 4? About a 7.75 on taste as I lacked salt and perhaps didn’t put enough herbs in the cavity of the lechon. But for the skin, a definite 9.75, for a total score of 8.75, the best we have done so far. Once I get to say a 9.00/10.00, I will be satisfied. And I hope to be able to do that with both a smooth and crackled pig skin! Gotta reach for the stars, right?
As for the name of this version, I am partial to Accuchon, but have decided to put it up for a vote so you can all participate in the process of naming it. I also liked Desecrachon, but couldn’t see that being a permanent name of a dish of mine, a bit blashphemous, no? :) Once we get a definitive winner in the name category, I will revise the title of this post! Thanks!
Parang may sakit yung baboy, hehe. Medyo kadiring tignan. How ’bout “Plague #6 Lechon”?
MM! Lechon gold this sure is!
Aside from asking your readers for the name of the lechon why dont you ask them as well if they see a smooth skinned and a rough skinned (accuchon version) lechon on a table, which one will they prefer (regardless of taste).
the most delicious looking lechon i’ve ever seen, in picture pa lng sarap na. i hope i can duplicate it given a chance in the future. excellent MM, thanks for sharing.
yep ACCUCHON for attempt #4… although i like annette’s INJECKCHON, parang hindi nga bagay on how this one was prepared.
well done MM, sana lang talaga we can have a taste on every lechon you prepare… hehehe
btw, it’s a good thing you still maintain your BP low despite all the cholesterol. :-)
The sight of the blistered skin on the whole lechon takes some getting used to, I think. But it doesn’t bother me that much. The important thing is the texture.
i guess we’re just used to seeing the lechon with a smooth and shiny texture…
in MM’s attempts, it is understandable how the pig will appear afterwards… the aim is to get a crispy skin and a delicious meat … actually the slitchon version doesnâ€™t pass my standard because of the appearance, but if it’s crispy and delicious.. so be it.
a nice looking skin is something i also desire to get but what is it for if it’s not crispy anymore after an hour or two… which brings me MM, in all the past four attempts, i guess the lechon was devoured right away with much gusto… have you ever tried saving some skin and keep them for more than an hour and see if it’s still crispy?
in the end, iâ€™ll yield as to how this chronicle will conclude just to get the best lechon ever and stick to the smell, taste and texture then the appearance.
As Miss Capulet would have it: “What’s in a name? That which we call a roast by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Now it looks yummy! On close up, the blisters looked like white heads & pimples but as a whole, I can just imagine the crunchiness!!
I am curious MM, do you still pair this with the traditional liver sauce? There’s someone in Bulacan who makes the yummiest liver lechon sauce.
I saw an a tv interview with sylvia reynoso at anc once and she said for a crisp lechon, her suggestion was to baste it with fresh milk…
k, I have heard that some folks use CONDENSED MILK so MILK wouldn’t surprise me… Tricia, Cebuanos don’t typically use liver sauce. Usually the pig is flavorful enough on its own. But I personally do like liver sauce and this skin went very well with some liver sauce. It is also good with high-quality patis and kalamans! Apicio, when I finally get the recipe I like the best, it will just be called Lechon a la Marketman. :) I suspect that is still another 3-4 pigs away… enteng, surprisingly, parts of this lechon remained crispy for a few hours, though not as crispy as minutes after coming off the flames… chris, I still have do a couple more smooth specimens to see and compare… ejit, eventually I would like to orchestrate a side by side comparison… vanessa, thanks! Jimbo, do you eat lechon kawali or bagnet?
I was just thinking why the pig’s pores do not give the same blister effect. Then I remembered that I read somewhere that pigs do not sweat and that is the reason why they need to wallow in mud or sand -to keep cool. Is that right? So they do not have “natural” holes in their skin, if that is the case?
It actually doesn’t look that bad. At first glance, the image says crispy but then someone injected the image of a plague stricken skin, and that altered my view a bit. hehe. I guess not seeing the head and legs would be best for this praparation. Like for a rolled boneless rib section with skin…
looks good, mm. however, if i am entertaining, i would serve the whole roast pork with the smooth skin…
arghhh!!! the skin.. sarap..i guess i just have to buy chicharon today…i miss good lechon.
Wow look at that! Parang cotton candy yong taba, creamy!
and i thought those were really pig hair! that skin looks amazing. i can imagine how crispy it is… i just had lechon this evening, it was baked in a pugon. also very, very good. :)
When my family and I saw the accupunctured lechon, we knew that it was going to be the crispiest lechon skin we tasted ever.
You could pick any part of the blistered skin and every square centimeter would crackle between your teeth when you bite into it.
My teenage kids said it was the most crispy and best tasting lechon skin they ever tasted. They were not turned off by its looks. My wife and I totally agree with the observation of our kids. And to think its been sitting for over 45 minutes before we had our first bite.
I don’t recall much how the meat tasted (maybe another invite for the meat tasting..hehehe). Perhaps because we were all savoring the best lechon skin ever tasted.
If we are to rate the skin on its mouth feel, texture and savory perception, its definitely a 9.9 (out of 10). Looks did not bother us a bit.
MM, you can be sure my family will now compare all lechon skin to your lechon no. 4.
MM, I’d love to see you experiment cooking the pig in an oven a la conchinillo style (ie. butterflied). It will be interesting to see what the results would be. It would be quite illuminating and helpful to us home cooks who don’t have the bamboo stake. Well, just a thought, wink wink. :D
MM,I think you’re almost close to finding your “lechon ala Marketman” which will be just on time for your birthday celebration in 10 days time.
linda, you are SO bad, noting that day and mentioning it to boot! :) This was partly my bday lechon (one of four bdays celebrated) as I will not be in Cebu on the week of my bday!
When we finally move to our own home, I will try this in our sampayan area, at the back of our house where it has cement floor.
What is good about this style of lechon is that the fat is “tayantang”, meaning it dissolved a bit because of the heat that came through the needle pierced skin.
I hate it when from typical lechon, you will find globs of fat layer after the crispy skin. Hence, this MM lechon is better because the fat is spread out thinly na.
Agree with the good patis & calamansi. Plus that blue elephant jasmine rice from S&R. GRABE!!!!!!!!!! Lakas hakot ng kanin yan. Plus regular Coke. Pamatay! LOL
Artisan Chocolatier… LUCKY!
Bravo! I thoroughly enjoy reading your lechon chronicle. I don’t mind the blisters at all. Although I like food to look good, bottomline for me is still taste. Good luck with attempt #5!
Pricking the skin technique also applies to the classic french technique of roasting a duck. And they do one more thing, they pour boiling water and dry the duck afterwards before putting it in the fire – – these two things seems to help make the whole crispy.
Thanks again for such interesting write-ups.
You might think i’m weird, but i actually like blistered Lechon skin because this means it’s crispy, and i specifically look for it when we have Lechon meals. This post is making me miss home even more… Wonderful wonderful post MM! Congrats on your Lechon#4. I think you got yourself a winner! :D
MM, Salamat for sharing your Lechon Adventures. It’s also my dream. I can’t wait for your next experiment. BTW, Happy Blessed Birthday!
Ainâ€™t that somethin. The Chinese take care to keep the skin of their duck intact and airtight for subsequent inflation while the French on the other hand riddle theirs with needle to arrive at the same goal, crisp skin. East is East… as Kipling said, and never the twain shall meet, except perhaps in the Olympics?
Apicio, now if only I could figure out how to “blow up” a pig and separate the skin from the fat, I could have a Peking Pig. Go further and blow it up and pin-prick it and I could have a “Pekin Cochon a l’Orange”…. Then, East would meet West, on Marketmanila.com :)
I have always wondered why lechon skin is loved smooth. I think this one looks like the best lechon ever. Just look at the handle of care and love for, and thats what it is all about, right? Brilliant skill to have marketman!
And I bet Lee would call it a riddled conundrum.
The lechon looks like it had chicken pox but damn sure made me more hungry!!!!:)
When eating lechon kawali/bagnet i always hunt for skin that looks like this for i surely know it would be crispy. Frankly I’m not fond of eating lechon because most I’ve tasted are bland w/ matching makunat na skin. If only I could be one of the few to taste your lechon then i could possibly be a convert. =)
That lechon is the most spectacular lechon I’ve ever seen! Really beautiful! I wish I was there.
The bloated look of the lechon made it look very crispy! I can imagine a vacum was formed between the first layer of the skin and the fat underneath due to steam and oil gushing out of the pin holes. As a result, the skin was like sitting a few cm from the fat thereby producing the cracker effect. Yummyyy!! I can just imagine the crunch when you bite the skin. I would eat this without any sauce, just plain skin.
You mentioned lack of salt MM, I was just wondering, since brining seems to be the latest flavoring technique with meat, if it will work with a whole pig, but then a huge vat is needed to soak the pig, right? Thanks for the Lechon series!
a needled riddled conundrum
Advanced happy birthday, MM. It is a practice among “lechoners” to inject salt (diluted in water, along with other flavoring you want, like herbs, using a syringe) randomly into the pig flesh so the meat in the middle (away from the skin and the cavity) will not be matabang.
Hi MM, I saw an episode in Iron Chef America where the secret ingredient was duck, the chef actually brought an inflator (similar to the ones used in inflating basketball), and inflated the skin so that it separates from the meat. He was making peking duck. Love the lechon. Just wondering whether the use of the fork in pricking the lechon will have the same effect?
awesome writing, this one… i swear, i was drooling through the piece; i can actually savor the taste of the lechon skin while reading this.. ive always been drawn to lechon skin (diabetis and hypertension be damned!) and reading this entry, MM, will now fuel my continuing quest for the perfect lechon in Manila – although i must say, so far, Jay Gamboa’s lechon kawali from lechon de leche in his Milky Way Cafe (above the Gamboa-owned building which also houses Jay’s Cirkulo, Tsukiji, and new Thai restaurant, Azuthai) along Pasay Road, is a hard bet to beat.
*drooling over pictures*
as with other dishes other there: looks/smells like hell, tastes like heaven..
peking pig? that got me laughing real hard hahahaha!
advance happy birthday MM!
pagka crispy and i like seeing the “inat-inat” under the crispy skin.
wow! you make me want to construct a lechon pit of my own! haha! best of luck on the fifth! ingat!
I’ve been inspired by your lechon chronicles and found your blog while searching for cooking techniques for lechon. Albeit, am far and distant
and space is very valuable… I made do with what i have. Yes, Cooking lechon in new york city. I do not have a backyard, so i had to make do with cooking the swine in my grill in my balcony. Am lucky enough to have found a specialized butcher shop to have provided me with a 20lbs. suckling pig.Am fortunate enough to have a fairly large grill and was able to have a rotisserie installed.Like you, I parted the charcoals and provided a drip pan. The pig was slightly heavy and bigger than my grill and turn motor would allow, so I ended up chopping the hooves and upper torso, I understand its a sin but, I had no choice. Like you, I had troubled getting the skin to crisp all around and only portions, but cavity flavorwise, I was able to replicate the lechon cebu, having rubbed soy, salt and pepper, tamarind leaves and lemon grass.
i live vicariously through your experiments and will definitely try the pin pricked lechon. I’ll use the below tenderizer to prick the holes since am lacking in the manpower department. Maybe a slight modification to bending every other pins to achieve optimal distance between each pins.
I will definitely do another lechon before ny summer is over. Thanks for all the tips.
here’s a link to my lechon
RoBStaR, HEY CONGRATS! A lechon on a NYC balcony… I am totally impressed! Amazing…
Question for you… how did you get the skin very crispy in terms of heat wise.. did you start with high temp. and end slow or vice versa..i did another lechon but once again, my motor failed to turn and lo’ behold.. i had to butcher my lovely swine.. this time i had to removed the extremities.. atleast i have the head.. hahaha slowly but surely, i will roast a whole one. hahaha already buying a 50lb motor.
i was able to roast it and still had some problems crisping the whole skin, i had portions but not overall. i pricked the pig using the meat tenderizer with a wooden jig to set the teeth to go in only about 3/16 inch into the skin.. bec. they were not needles but rather sharp thin lil blades… the prick method didnt come out as well.. if at all. i think i still have one more roast before it starts to get colder..and hope to resolve the skin crispy problems..
attach is the setup… please excuse the mess…under strict limitations this is all i could muster.. but atleast it taste really well seasoned with portions of crispy skin. same method as before… coals parted on either side with drip pan… should i be bringin the coals underneath at the beginnning of the cooking process? then parting it after?
ive attach a link to the new massacre..
hope you can share some tips…thanks in advance.
The lechon looks good, and though a lot of people seem to think that the skin didn’t look as yummy as it should, I’d like to share that your Accuchon actually looks like a brick-oven cooked lechon you’d see in a store window in Portugal, particularly Lisbon. I haven’t seen anything like it here in the Philippines – skin all puffed up and looking like chicharon. But it is a special dish there which they eat on Christmas, thus a Portugese would definitely salivate at your chicharon-covered roast pig. (I unfortunately didn’t try that one in Lisbon, thinking that nothing beats our own lechon here and i was better off trying other Portugese dishes though like their fish cooked inside bread dough, barnacles, pasteis de belem etc.)
aarrggghh! makapunta na nga muna sa La Loma.
hey! watchamacallit? lechon bagnet
(a lechon in disguised as vigan bagnet)
i would definitely try this. but i would use disposable syringes(5-10pesos a piece) coz i think my fingers would ache by just using needles.
i think it will turn up great.
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