The national dish of the Philippines, and a popular party piece for Latin Caribbean get-togethers, lechon involves sourcing, dressing and carving a whole pig, although those without the necessary equipment can prepare an oven-roasted suckling pig instead. The rewards are incomparable, with succulent, herb-infused meat topped with crispy, salty hunks of crackling. Cooking lechon requires relatively little attention after you mount the pig over coals.
Things You'll Need
- Coarse salt
- Black pepper
- Soy sauce
- Aromatic herbs and vegetables
- Butchers twine
- Skewer set
- Roasting spit
- Oven mitts
- Baking tray
- Aluminum foil
Order a dressed pig from a butcher, with the innards and bristles removed. For home roasting, a suckling pig under 30 pounds should fit in the oven.
Budget a pound of meat per person, dead weight, which yields roughly 6 ounces of meat each. For skewered pigs roasted over coals, the pig should be no heavier than about 90 pounds.
Season the skin and inside cavity thoroughly with coarse salt to help the formation of crackling, black pepper and soy sauce, which gives the pig a warm red color as it roasts.
Stuff the belly with lemongrass, leeks, garlic, tamarind and bell peppers for a Filipino lechon, or pepper, oregano, garlic and peppers for a Puerto Rican version. Sew the body cavity closed with butchers twine.
Skewer the pig by inserting the main beam through the rear end of the pig and running it through the cavity to exit through the mouth. Secure the spine to the beam by making incisions along the length of the pig’s back and tying it securely with thick twine.
Attach the two-pronged forks at either end to hold the head in place and secure the trotters to the narrower bar with twine.
Lift the pig onto the skewer mount and shovel burning coals or charcoal underneath. Allow a pound of charcoal per pound of pig. Start with the pig upright to cook the shoulder and hams, then turn it regularly to maintain a golden color throughout.
Roast the pig for three to four hours until the knuckles are exposed and the crackling is raised. The color should be consistent across all sections of flesh.
Remove the pig from the mount, a maneuver requiring two people wearing mitts, and set it on a serving table. Remove the skewers and carve it.
Oven Suckling Roast
Arrange a suckling pig belly down on a baking tray with sides at least 2 inches high.
Rub the skin and cavity with coarse salt and seasoning. Remove the ears and tail or cover them with aluminum foil.
Heat the oven to roughly 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cook the pig for at least four hours, turning it occasionally. Sear the pig at a higher temperature, between 450 and 500 degrees, for the last half hour until the skin forms crackling.
Remove the pig from the oven, cover it with foil and allow it to rest for at least 20 minutes.
Tips & Warnings
- Butchers usually need at least a week to source a pig, so get your order in well ahead of your planned feast.
- A whole raw pig stores well overnight in a bath of ice and water.
- Place a roasting pan beneath a skewered pig to catch the juices that run off, in order to baste the pig as it cooks.
- Check that the internal temperature of the pig reaches at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit, as measured with a cook’s thermometer.
- Remove any excess bristles with a simple razor if desired, although the heat normally sears them off.
- The Latin Kitchen: Julian Medina’s Carnitas de Lechon
- The Wall Street Journal: The Dish, Lechon
- Serious Eats: The Food Lab, How to Roast a Whole Suckling Pig
- Serious Eats: How to Roast a Pig on a Spit
- Jamie Oliver: Jamie’s Christmas Suckling Pig
- Cooking Channel TV: Oven-Roasted Pig, German Style
- SBS: Filipino-Style Suckling Pig
- The Guardian: Fergus Henderson’s Whole Roast Suckling Pig
- Photo Credit stevanovicigor/iStock/Getty Images
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