Cebu Lechon has introduced a whole new way of roasting pig. Today, most lechon are cooked in a similar way. Out of this creativity, many other great-tasting lechon have entered the market. In the end, foodies and consumers are the beneficiaries.
When I first went to Cebu in the 1980s, friends Edward and Henry Chiongbian introduced us to their popular Cebu cochinillo. It’s baby lechon that’s so full of flavor there’s no need for liver sauce to dip it with. But an Ilocano friend insisted on having calamansi with it, which I thought also worked.
Since then, many things have happened. Makers of Cebu lechon have multiplied. Ask any Cebuano and they’ll have various favorites—from Carcar Special Lechon to Guiling’s and Rico’s (my fave at the moment).
In Anthony Bourdain’s show, he mentioned that Philippine lechon is the best he has tried. Lechon cannot be anything but delicious, with all the flavors and textures that come with it: crispy, sticky, full of unseen liquid saturated fat, salty, sometimes spicy.
It also has the aroma of various herbs and spices: lemongrass, spring onions, pepper, salt, lime, etc.
In my last few trips to Cebu, I noticed a new kind of lechon has been making waves: crispy, boneless lechon liempo. This is the latest craze in this great culinary destination. At the departure area of the Cebu airport, Zubuchon sells it frozen. (I have never tried this version, but I have tasted its great ukoy, lechon-stuffed pusit as well as adobong pusit.)
From now on, every trip from Cebu I will be bringing home an extra baggage of Tatang’s boneless lechon. I blame Lita Orbina of Café Laguna for this. She sent us judges a package each of this winning boneless lechon entry and I have not stopped dreaming about it.
(Tatang’s can be ordered online or through tel. 032-3164719. It makes deliveries to Manila.)
In Manila, I have come across an Italian version of the lechon called Porchetta served with green herb sauce. It is used as filling on Italian focaccia and it takes you to heaven. (Contact Ram Jorge, 0917-8102218).
Chef Bob Abes and his wife Ninay make two versions—Italian Porchetta and Cebu-style lechon. You can keep it in the freezer if you’re not eating it right away.
I tired the Cebu version by heating it in the microwave for about five minutes, then baked it at 350 °F for about 30 minutes. It was gone in a few minutes.
It was crunchy, crispy, sticky, bursting with flavors; it had the aroma of lemongrass. No sauce was needed. Or, if you want sauce, try a pepper-salt combination with lime juice.
The Italian version had aromas such as rosemary, basil, oregano, garlic and seasonings. Instead of bread, you can eat it with piping hot rice.
For sure, you will have to go on a diet afterward.
At a recent dinner in Manila, I tried a fantastic version of a cochinillo. Done Cebu-style, this had the best textured balat I had come across. There was hardly any fat attached to the skin. The taste was clean. You can combine it with the well-seasoned, tender, flavorful meat and just hum away.
Bon and Ninay’s boneless lechon, Cebu-style and Italian: tel. 02-9840065 or 0918-9098850.
Cebu-style cochinillo by Margie de la Rama, 0917-8971017.
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