Aug 17, 2015

Cooking Lechon

In 2008 John and I were on a tour in the Philippines.  One of our stops was on the island of Cebu where we stayed overnight at Plantation Bay Resort & Spa. I was impressed with their pools – eight of them, four of which are saltwater lagoons and four are freshwater pools – covering a total of six acres. I never forgot the pools so in March 2015 when we returned to the Philippines we booked a stay at Plantation Bay Resort.

The resort is designed to resemble an historic plantation village with a one-mile circular road that passes by the many plantation-style accommodation buildings, the spa, restaurants and activity areas. Riding the vintage horse and carriage around the property I spotted the chef cooking a whole pig near one of the pools.  The pig, called lechon, is served several times a week at Plantation Bay’s themed dinners. I returned to learn how it is prepared.  Later that day John and I enjoyed the evening’s Filipino-themed dinner with a great cultural show and lechon.

Black Lechon is unique to Cebu. Chef Mon, the sous chef, said that
Plantation Bay’s Black Lechon is the best and offered to challenge Anthony Bourdain to visit Plantation Bay and try it. Bourdain claimed Cebu Lechon was the best roast pig but ate at another Cebu restaurant.  Legend has it that Black Lechon was served to Magellan in 1521 when his voyage stopped in Cebu but most likely it originated with the local natives.
The name “lechon” is derived from the Spanish for “milk” but today in the Philippines it refers to the roasted suckling pig or colloquially to a chubby child. It is one of the national dishes of the Philippines and no celebration, fiesta, or family event is considered complete without lechon. It is especially popular at Christmastime.  You can wow your family and friends at your next big gathering by serving lechon.

1 suckling pig roasting-ready to cook (about 40 lbs – for 40 guests)
Salt and pepper as needed

Soy sauce as needed
2 onions sliced
6 bay leaves crushed
½ (half cup) sliced ginger
10-12 whole garlic gloves
1 tsp crushed peppercorns 
1 tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper
15 stalks of lemon grass
6 whole scallions
Trussing needle kit
1 can coconut milk
Spit (many farmers who sell suckling pigs have rotisseries for rent)
1 bag (25 lb) charcoal briquette (it doesn’t hurt to have a second bag on hand just in case.)

Put the pig on a spit. Tie feet together. Rinse pig inside and out. Use a paper towel to remove any excess water from the inside. Rub inside and out with salt and pepper. Rub soy sauce on skin. In a bowl mix onions, bay leaves, ginger, garlic, peppercorns, salt, and pepper. Stuff the belly with mixture. Using one of the leaves wrap it around the lemon grass and scallions bunched together to create a bundle. Place in the belly
on top of the mixture. Sew up the belly. Roast over live charcoal until crisp. Plan on at least one hour per 10 pounds. Brush frequently with coconut milk to keep skin from cracking and to get the black color. When cooking is complete remove the pig from spit and the stuffing from the belly and it is ready to carve.  The skin is edible. Serve with native sauce. Tip: Before cooking the pig can be prepared a day ahead and stored in a plastic bag.