|Place of origin||Spain|
|Main ingredients||Suckling Pig|
|Variations||Stuffing of lemongrass, onion, garlic (for Visayan variant)|
Lechón (Spanish pronunciation: [leˈt͡ʃon]; from leche “milk” + -ón) is a pork dish in several regions of the world, most specifically in Spain and former Spanish colonial possessions throughout the world. Lechón is a Spanish word referring to a roasted baby piglet which was still fed by suckling its mother’s milk (a suckling pig). Lechón is a popular food in Spain, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and other Spanish-speaking nations in Latin America. The dish features a whole roasted suckling pig cooked over charcoal. It has been described as a national dish of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Spain.
Additionally, it is popular in the Philippines and other Austronesian regions, whose pig-roasting traditions have native pre-colonial origins. Although it acquired the Spanish name as a general term for “roasted pig“, in these regions it more often refers to adult roasted pigs, not lechones (milk suckling pigs). It is also sometimes considered as one of the unofficial national dishes of the Philippines, with Cebu being asserted by American chef Anthony Bourdain as having the best pigs.
Variants by country
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In most regions of the Philippines, lechón (also spelled litson or lichon) is prepared throughout the year for special occasions, festivals, and the holidays. Although it acquired the Spanish name, Philippine lechón has pre-Hispanic origins as pigs are one of the native domesticated animals of all Austronesian cultures and were carried throughout the Austronesian Expansion all the way to Polynesia. It is a national dish of the Philippines. There are two major types of preparing lechon the Philippines, the "Manila lechon" (or "Luzon lechon"), and the "Cebu lechon" (or "Visayas lechon").
As the usage of the Spanish loanword evolved over the years in the languages of the Philippines, "lechón" has come to refer to roasted pig in general (including suckling pigs). Roasted suckling pigs are now referred to in the Philippines as “lechón de leche” (which in Spanish would be a linguistic redundancy, though corresponding to the term cochinillo in Spain).
Visayan lechon is prepared stuffed with herbs which usually include scallions, bay leaves, black peppercorn, garlic, salt, and distinctively tanglad (lemongrass) and/or leaves from native Citrus trees or tamarind trees, among other spices. A variant among Hiligaynon people also stuffs the pig with the sour fruits of batuan or binukaw (Garcinia binucao). It is usually cooked over charcoal made from coconut husks. Since it is already flavored with spices, it is served with minimal dipping sauces, like salt and vinegar or silimansi (soy sauce, calamansi, and labuyo chili).
Luzon lechon on the other hand, is typically not stuffed with herbs. When it is, it is usually just salt and pepper. Instead, the distinctiveness of Manila lechon comes from the liver-based sauce, known as the "lechon sauce". Lechon sauce is made from vinegar, brown sugar, salt, pepper, mashed liver (or liver spread), breadcrumbs, garlic and onion. Manila lechon is also typically cooked over woodfire.
Most lechon can either be cooked based on the two main versions, or mix techniques from both. Both variants also rub salt or spices unto the skin to make it crispier, as well as continually baste the lechon as it cooks. Sometimes carbonated drinks may also be used. They are cooked on a bamboo spit over charcoal for a few hours with constant (traditionally manual) turning. The pig is roasted on all sides for several hours until done. The process of cooking and basting usually results in making the pork skin crisp and is a distinctive feature of the dish.
Leftover parts from the lechon, such as the head and feet, are usually cooked into another popular dish, lechon paksiw. Like lechon itself, lechon paksiw also differs based on whether it is prepared Luzon-style or Visayas-style, with the former using liver sauce as an essential ingredient, while the latter does not. In some cases, these parts or stale lechon can be repurposed into another dish, such as Sisig.
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When it comes to “authentic” dishes like lechon asado (which Spain, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Cuba all claim as their “national dish”), ingredients, recipes and methodology differ contentiously enough to start a war.
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Anthony Bourdain — whose love of all things porcine is famous — visited the Philippine island of Cebu with his show No Reservations and declared that he had found the best pig ever
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