How to Cook Lechon, the Popular Filipino Christmas Dish
If there’s one dish that’s a constant in any Filipino celebration, it’s lechon (roasted pig). You can usually see the whole pig gracing the dining table, making it the highlight of the feast. After the prayers are said, guests immediately flock to it, vying to be the first to get the crispest skin and the choicest meat.
I haven’t eaten meat for some time (except when I don’t have a choice), and even if I start eating again, I won’t eat lechon. I still remember how it tastes, and although I admit it’s delicious, I will never eat it again. I have seen how it’s cooked, and it’s hard to get out of my mind.
People in the cities just go to Lydia’s and other places that sell whole lechon whenever there’s an occasion. For those in the provinces, however, families raise pigs in preparation for special events like birthdays, Christmas eve, and New Year’s Day. In Tandag, Surigao del Sur, for example, people will buy a piglet, say, in the second quarter of the year in anticipation of it getting bigger in time to be made into a lechon in December. So think of Babe, the pig in the city. Can you really take care of something, give it a name, and then eat it afterwards?
In any case, a few hours before the event, the chosen pig is killed. Usually a quick stab to the throat is enough. There are times though when the pig is stronger, and it can take some time (and a lot more blood) before it dies. When it’s dead, someone will then make sure it gets cleaned. Every inch of it is brushed until all dirt is gone.
While the killing is going on, a huge vat of water is set to boil. This will be used to bathe the pig to make its bristles easier to remove. When the pig is dead, boiling water is poured all over its body to soften the bristles, and it is then shaved using a knife first, and later on, a blade for closer shaving. This can take some time—which explains why lechon is expensive!—especially when the pig is bigger or older.
After all the external cleaning has been done, the pig’s entrails are taken out. They’re not supposed to be fed hours before it’s scheduled to be butchered. Otherwise, the cook will have a hard time taking out the entrails. Ever wonder what they do with it? The entrails are cleaned up and then cooked! It does make for a good dish, if it’s cleaned properly.
When the pig’s insides are cleaned out, loads of spices and other ingredients are shoved into the cavity. They use a lot of onions, garlic, lemongrass, black pepper, salt, and the whole body is rubbed with seasoning.
The end result is a succulent-looking dish served on its own wooden tray in the middle of the dining table. Sometimes an apple is put into its mouth. The lechon’s choicest parts is its skin, the ribs and the flesh inside the cavity. Some also love taking the whole leg and biting into it.
There you have it. This is how the lechon is made. Filipinos really love this dish. Do you? Would you?
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Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!