Pork Belly Lechon

When I was back home, I constantly reminded myself of my schedule. I may or may not leave so soon, I realized. There was really no fixed date, no pressing matter to attend to.

Then came the invitation for dinner, around a week after Jad’s funeral. We (my friends/classmates) haven’t really had a chance to talk about things out in the open. The situation was a delicate one. But the dinner had to happen. Naturally, I hosted it, and played the part of the cook. It’s a part I like to play because I think cooking for people who matter is on the list of things that feed my soul.

I didn’t want it to be complicated. My dinners have never tried to be uptight and I want it to stay that way. I love my people, and maybe that helps.

And I love pork. Strokes of brilliance on this blog have always involved pork, one way or the other. When I was thinking about what to prepare for dinner, a glorious way to feast on pork was on my mind.

And this, my friends, is glorious (if I do say so myself).
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Porchetta was on my mind when I was preparing my list. I’ve always wanted to make it, and I did get a chance to witness how it’s done when I was in school. But I also found myself craving for lechon while I was home. Mom would relent and come home with a small package of chopped up pig for me. That may have happened more than once.

I thought about taking a nice slab of pork belly and drowning it in the typical lechon aromatics (minus the calamansi because I don’t like it). Roasting it on low for a few hours makes it dastardly fork-tender, and during the last hour of baking, cranking the heat up will yield a crackling so divine.

The result blew me away. There is no breakthrough, no secret technique, no new flavor. I just made damn good lechon, and that for me, was a new notch in my belt. And if I’m being corny here, I’d like to call it “pinoychetta”. I’m also clever like that.
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All in all, I had two more attempts just to prove the first one wasn’t a fluke. The first one was a trial-run (my mom and her office mates were the lucky ones). The second was for the dinner, and the last was the big bang before I left.

The dinner itself was great. They loved the pork. Because they’re my friends, naturally they had to sing praises.
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They were fed well, we talked until we had no more stories to tell, and one of my friends, Jam, received a birthday cake a week early. It was a heavy chocolate cake with coffee buttercream, studded with shards of almond praline. I didn’t bring my piping tips so I was rubbish with the rosettes, but they liked it.

It was also passed around for posterity and the July babies went nuts. Somehow bearing the brunt of loss seemed lighter, even just for a night. I haven’t laughed so hard in a while.

So this pork is a thing of beauty. It’s not something you would whip up on a weeknight (but I’m not stopping you!). Reserve a weekend. Prepare this on Saturday, wake up early on Sunday to start roasting it. By lunchtime, you feast and the next day, you fast.
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Roasted Pork Belly “Lechon”

  • 1.5 kg pork belly slab, skin on
  • 3 whole garlic bulbs, peeled and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup oregano leaves, washed then chopped
  • 3 red onions, peeled and chopped
  • around 4 – 5 lemongrass stalks, sliced
  • the zest from 1 lemon
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • a little over 1/8 cup salt, plus more for an even rub around the pork
  • 4 tablespoons crushed black pepper

Combine all the aromatics in a bowl and mix well. Lightly mash everything together with the back of a spoon. Alternatively, use a food processor to bring everything together with only around 2-3 pulses.

With the skin side down, rub the mixture all over the meat. Roll the slab, carefully invert the meat and secure it with butcher’s twine (and lemongrass leaves, like what I did). It’s okay if there are a few pieces of herbs that fall off, you can place it back later. Rub coarse salt all over the meat, including the skin. With a paring knife or fork, poke the skin of the meat. This will ensure a nice crackling. Transfer it to a roasting fitted with a rack and the bottom lined with foil. Place it in the refrigerator to chill overnight. This will dry the skin, which helps the crackling form.
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variation: this will easily feed two – three

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Just to be sure, pat the skin of the pork dry with a paper towel. Roast the pork for 5 hours. Afterwards, increase the temperature to 220 C, and allow the pork’s crackling to form. This will take another 30 minutes to an hour. When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before slicing. Enjoy!
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Lechon Sinigang

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The months of March and April usually herald the end of another school year, with graduation rites all over the country. My cousin graduated a few weeks ago and in true Filipino fashion, the family just had to celebrate, complete with the ubiquitous lechon. Lechon/roast pig instantly makes everything more festive and special.

My mom and I share this habit that when we’re at the buffet table, as soon as we get our plates, we dash straight to the lechon (which usually has its own little table at the end of the line) bypassing the rest of the dishes. Those come last. Now that I’m thinking about it, I probably got that habit from her.
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For a long time, my favorite moment was being one of the first few who get to peel off squares of crispy skin. A real sign that the lechon has been freshly cooked is when upon helping yourself to the skin, you sometimes get a glimpse of steam wafting from the body. Underneath the skin is a layer of fat and meat, and using your fingers (which I usually do) to get the crisp skin ends with my fingertips plastered with “salty slightly oily juice”. A real treat is when you suck on your fingers for a nanosecond, just to taste the it. Hey, it’s not as disgusting as it sounds.

But I’ve also taken a liking to waiting for the people to massacre the poor pig until the ribs are exposed, then make my way to the table. The ribs absorb most of the flavors, making it probably the most fragrant, succulent, and delicious part of the whole roasted pig.
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We almost always have lechon leftovers. Usually it’s made into paksiw, which is pretty standard in our household. But once in a while, when the tides sing a different song…

This post has been a long time coming. In fact, this burning desire to do something more with lechon started a few months ago, when I perused a magazine with an advertising feature that had a recipe for lechon sinigang. It was pretty frustrating that until now, I couldn’t find the said magazine with the recipe. But hey, it’s sinigang. It couldn’t be that hard right? I told myself that if my intuition will serve me right, I’ll probably avert catastrophe.
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And I was right!
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Not only was catastrophe averted, but two distinct flavors and aromas, sour sinigang broth and lemongrass-fragrant lechon, was placed in a bowl that was easily finished in one sitting. This left our tummies heavy and happy, which means we shouldn’t eat this all the time, but when we do, we superlatively indulge.
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Lechon Sinigang

Sinigang is one of those dishes that can be adjusted to suit your taste.  Ingredients and proportions do not need to be approximated to the letter; just adjust everything depending on how much leftover meat you have. 

  • Leftover lechon meat, excess fat trimmed and sliced into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 – 8 cups water that was used to wash rice (rice washing)
  • 3 – 4 medium-sized tomatoes
  • 2 ½-inch ginger slices
  • 2 red onions, sliced
  • String beans, sliced into 3-inch long pieces (add as much as you like)
  • 1 whole finger chili (optional)
  • 2 10-gram sachets Sinigang sa Sampalok mix, or more if desired
  • 2 cups chili leaves/tops or kangkong
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons patis/fish sauce, or more, to taste
  1. Trim off any excess fat from the lechon
  2. In a large pot, bring rice water to a boil. Once boiling, add the tomatoes, onions and ginger. Add the lechon, string beans and finger chili.
  3. Continue cooking until lechon and string beans become tender, around 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and patis. Add the sinigang mix and adjust taste to your preference.
  4. Add the chili leaves or kangkong, and cook for 1 more minute. When done, remove from heat and serve. Enjoy!

Feast your eyes on…

Today’s Christmas day here in the Philippines. Let me just put it out there that nobody can topple a Filipino Christmas! Sure, almost every culture that celebrates Christmas puts emphasis on family and togetherness and good tidings, but the happy chaos that comes with the territory of a Filipino holiday spread is incomparable.

In our family, it has been almost a tradition of sorts to expect a lot of people for Christmas lunch. By “a lot of people” I mean my grandmother’s extended (and I use that loosely) family PLUS their respective posse is usually in full attendance. The general flow usually goes like this: the people gather around the buffet table to say grace and a few minutes later, it’s most likely that grandma would order a refill of the dishes. We had lechon (roast pig) this year and she was fighting tooth and nail (I kid) to save the head for her other friends who haven’t showed up yet, but to no avail. The lechon didn’t stand a chance.
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Our dishes aren’t really “special”. By special I mean, those dishes prepared using classy technique or expensive ingredients. Because we literally feed a crowd, it’s best to go back to the basics: macaroni salad, estofado (pork stewed in tomato sauce and potatoes), fried chicken, leche flan, valenciana (sticky rice with meat and chorizo – like paella but without the color and seafood), pancit sotanghon, chop suey and lechon. Don’t forget the rice! A river of rice.

The fare is still special, but not “special”. We’ll save the “special” fare for the New Year.
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But I did take a page out of Julia Child’s cookbook.
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Beef with wine?

Yes, you guessed right. I made Boeuf/Beef Bourguignon! Making this is momentous for me because this has been a long time (a year really) coming (!).

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It’s just too bad my internet connection’s going crazy. When I connect my modem to my router it doesn’t get a signal, but when I connect my modem to my pc it works. So there’s no wireless connection. And…I hope I made sense there. But Christmas goes on! (falalalala!)

I’ll probably post the recipe tomorrow, and blog about it in detail. But for now, it’s a silent and peaceful night for me. One of the best gifts I’ll probably give myself this Christmas…. is a good night’s sleep. Happy holidays everyone!