Please Don’t Call It “LECHON de LECHE” (Roast Pig)

Please, try not to say lechón de leche; the first word is enough. Lechón is a Spanish food term for roasted sucking pig.  The root word of lechón is leche, or milk.  See, the piglet is so young, it’s still feeding on its mother’s milk.

However, to be able to provide for more guests, party hosts, caterers, and lechón sellers have modified the practice of roasting just piglets and have began to cook medium- to large-size specimens.

The word lechón has also come to mean the process by which other animals are dressed, skewered, seasoned, and roasted over coals.  Hence, we see lechón baka (roasted calf), lechón bibe (roast duck), etc.  Additionally, the term is now applied to deep-frying, as in lechón kawali (pan-roasted pork).  The original method of roasting over coals is replaced by cooking a cut of pork in plenty of oil to produce the same crunchy skin on the finished product.

Lechón is one of the most popular dishes in the Philippines; in fact, it’s often cited as the national dish.  Ditto in Puerto Rico.  Most countries in Latin America also have it in their roster of holiday dishes.  In Europe, roast pig is a special occasion dish in Romania, Portugal, Germany, and Croatia.  The U.S. state of Louisiana has an annual Cochon de Lait festival, where roast sucking pig is the main feature, while Hawaiian luaus give center stage to a whole pig roast in an underground pit.  In Asia, Chinese and Vietnamese parties also feature it in their celebrations, while in the Indonesian island of Bali, it is also a specialty dish.

Lechón is now available year-round for practically any occasion, be it an office party, a family celebration, a Sunday lunch, or even a special meal on an ordinary day.  For smaller parties, consumers usually buy servings by the kilo from a purveyor of lechón, or from a restaurant.

To cook lechón, the pig carcass is rid of all the entrails, the skin and inside thoroughly cleaned and seasoned, and the pig is skewered into a long piece of bamboo.  The roast is positioned in a pit filled with charcoal embers. While the ends of the long skewer rest on stands, one or two people turn the whole thing, as in a rotisserie, so that the pig is cooked evenly on all sides.  Frequent basting helps to give the pork skin that characteristic crispness.  YUM!

Whole lechón is usually displayed as the centerpiece of a buffet table, surrounded by crisp salad greens, and with a red apple in its mouth. On either end of the dish are large bowls containing sarsa ng lechón (sauce of lechón).  Guests help themselves to portions of the roast meat and skin, slather some sauce over it, and take it to their places on the table.


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