Lechon and Leftovers

Lechon and Leftovers
There are many things the Spanish colonization gave the Philippines, not all of them welcome. But the best-loved gift is Lechon. The word lechon refers to a whole pig cooked over charcoal. The pig is carefully seasoned inside and outside, then basted frequently as it is spit-roasted over the fire. The result is juicy, tender, and flavorful meat with an unbelievably crispy coating of skin (a distinct feature of the dish). Every region has its own special mix of seasonings and its own special sauce or gravy to complement the lechon.

The lechon with an apple in its mouth occupies the throne at the Christmas table, surrounded by courtiers made up of the dishes that the family has passed down for generations. This masterpiece of local culinary artistry will always draw compliments from the guests and spark many a conversation. Because lechon is much appreciated, at some point in the festivities it is usual to ask who would like to take some home. There are always volunteers and just as many ideas for recycling lechon.

Lechon has such a long tradition that even its left-overs have traditional ways of preparation. The most popular is paksiw. The lechon is chopped into large pieces and braised in liver sauce with a few other condiments. If no liver sauce came with the lechon, there are bottled varieties available in any supermarket. Pinatisan is another favorite. The pieces are marinated in patis (fish sauce) and fried to a crisp. But one need not confine oneself to tradition. Leftovers, even of so succulent a dish as lechon, lend themselves well to creative cooking. Think outside the carcass and pimp that pork.

Recall that other piggy delicacy—bagnet . Leftover lechon can easily morph into a tasty semblance of this. Heavily salt the pieces (use coarse or rock salt) and freeze overnight. Next day slow fry or bake until the outside is toasty and the center is warm. Bagnetized lechon is great with garlic fried rice and atsara, possibly a fried egg and some fried bananas as well. Too much fried food after the holidays? Add bits to your favorite monggo recipe. Or use it like real bagnet: diced pieces sprinkled over Ilocano favorites like pinakbet and dinengdeng.

Lechon can be transformed into surprisingly un-lechon-like food. Sautéed with bagoong (fish or shrimp paste) and it turns into binagoongang baboy without the long process of tenderizing the meat. Cook it with coconut milk and your choice of vegetables and you have lechon sa gata. Diced or minced lechon can be stuffed into rellenong talong, croquettas, and omelettes.

A pork version of what Filipinos know as karne norte (shredded corned beef) is also possible with leftover lechon. Saute garlic, diced onions, siling labuyo (bird’s eye chili). Add shredded lechon and stir-fry. Season with soy sauce (or steak sauce or Worcestershire sauce), pepper, sugar, and top with minced scallions and cilantro.

Why not go fusion? Try Chinese. Wrap pieces of lechon in a flour pancake, add some sliced carrots, singkamas, and very thinly sliced leeks. Peanut or hoisin sauce completes the pritchon – the lechon take on Peking duck. Or lechon pieces and lettuce smeared with Hoisin sauce and topped with some peanuts and wansoy in a mantou bun makes a delicious cua pao substitute.

Go Mexican. A tortilla with sautéed vegetables and lechon pieces makes for a good merienda. Substitute the ground meat in your regular taco with diced lechon, or add it to the filling of quesadillas.

Go Italian and season lechon leftovers with Italian herbs – fennel seed, pepper flakes, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and salt. Bake slowly in the oven. Serve sliced on ciabatta with mayonnaise and a drizzle of lemon juice, and you have a Porchetta sandwich. Go native and use a pan de sal for equally tasty results.

Let your taste buds’ imagination run free and liberate those leftovers from convention and microwave ovens. And be sure you attend the next Christmas gathering and get your share of the take-out.

Written by Mitos Belofsky
Illustration by Patricia Wassmer

Read more

Undercooked

Undercooked

The Sulô Coffee Shop: A Spark in History

The Sulô Coffee Shop: A Spark in History

The Lucky Food Diet

The Lucky Food Diet