Lechon is a widespread cooking method here in the Philippines. Essentially, it's to roast an entire animal (pig, cow, goat, chicken are common ones) over charcoal. Of course the size of the animal will often dictate when they often get served, from lechon manok (whole roast chicken) being a common, nearly everyday dish, lechon de leche (whole roast suckling pig) being served regularly in some restaurants, lechon baboy (whole roast pig) on special occassions, and lechon baka (whole roast cow) for those who want to be even more extravagant.
Iin many rural towns in the Philippines, families would purchase a hog to be raised for an entire year just so they can have a lechon baboy on the Patron Saint's Feast Day. Now that is definitely out of the question for most urban dwelling families who want to have lechon baboy on their special occassion. There have been workarounds to this, with restaurants specializing in lechon selling/serving chopped up bits by the kilogram.
Of course, some enterprising people have come up with other alternative. The Lechon Pork Belly allows an urban dwellers, even those in condos, to enjoy having a lechon. And since it will be the pork belly, it avoids the chances of getting the leaner and drier parts from when you buy it by the kilogram from those restaurants I mentioned above
Do note that, like so many things floating around on the interwebs, this is my take of this dish. Thus it may or may not have some resemblance to others out there.
Step 1: Ingredients
So you're going to need the following:
- Pork belly - an entire slab, like the ones they use for making bacon. 2-3 kg can serve 6-8 people
- Lemon grass stalks - these should be available in many Asian grocers
- Green Onions/Scallions
- Garlic cloves, crushed - a head of garlic should be enough
- A medium sized onion, finely sliced
- Some star anise
- Kitchen twine/Butcher's twine
- Water - about 1/2 L should be enough
- Rock salt
For cooking, you'll need:
- A roasting pan and roasting rack
- Tin foil
- An oven (of course)
Step 2: Prepare the Belly
After defrosting the pork belly, you might want to wash it a bit
For a very crispy skin, pat it dry with paper towels. You'll want to do this for both the skin side and the meat side.
After the pat down, use a very sharp kitchen knife to score the skin with small nicks. This will help the moisture from the skin to be released
Step 3: Salt Rub
After scoring the skin, rub the pork belly down with rock salt. This will do two things:
- season the meat
- draw the excess moisture from the skin, thus helping you get that crackling skin when it's cooked
You can leave it overnight in the fridge. But if you're prepping the pork belly on the same day, 8-12 hours should be enough time.
Step 4: Stuffing the Pork Belly
At this point, you may want to preheat you oven to 204°C (400°F)
After letting the salt rub do it's thing, take the pork belly out of the refrigerator.
Flip the pork belly meat side up, and make diagonal slices across the slab, all the way down to the skin. I recommend doing this step to allow you to insert the cloves of garlic into the cuts, thus allowing the flavors to permeate the meat.
Take the lemon grass stalks and crush the white part. If the lemon grass you bought still has leaves, cut those off. You can make lemon grass tea with those leaves later.
Together with the scallions, lay the lemon grass on one end of the slab. Further season the meat with pepper.
Roll the pork belly starting from the end with the lemon grass and scallions into a tight log. Use the kitchen twine to hold it in place. Use a butcher's knot to tie the twine down, that way you can adjust it's tightness should you need to do so later.
Step 5: Steaming
Place your rolled up pork belly on a roasting rack. In a roasting pan, add your water, onions, and star anise. Place the roasting rack with the pork belly onto roasting pan.
Cover your roasting pan with tin foil, and place in to the preheated oven. Allow to cook for 2 hours. This will allow the meat to be thoroughly cooked and be infused by the aromatics with flavor.
Step 6: Crisping Up the Skin
After steaming for 2 hours, removed the tin foil, as well as any liquid from the roasting pan that may have still been left.
Return to the oven, but this time crank the heat up to 246°C (475°F). Let it roast for another 1 1/2 hours.
A note to achieve perfect skin crispness:
Depending on how much fat is present on the pork belly, some of the juices that render will drip to the bottom part resulting in that section being unable to get crispy. I recommend watching the roasting, and once the top part starts crisping up, turn the pork belly around to allow the bottom part time to get crsipy as well.