Lechon Love in the Time of Anti-Pork Barrel
Carmina Reyes | Jun 17, 2014
In Europe and North America, domestic pigs are used by men to locate truffles in forests. But in Dedet De la Fuente’s kitchen, she roasts the pig and the truffle together to produce the world’s best lechon.
Many have reinvented this dish which originated in China. In the Philippines, the traditional method is to roast a whole pig over an open coal pit after all the innards have been removed. The head, hooves, and tail, however, stay. To up the ante, lechoneros Mila and Lydia stuff their pig with paella. Charlie deep-fries his pig. Hecky bakes his organic pig in an oven. While popular blogger MarketMan “acupunctures” his Zubuchon to make the lechon skin crispier.
Dedet took the glam route. Already sinful and luxurious, how can a lechon get any more scandalously rich and delicious? She stuffs it with rice flavored with mushroom shavings and French truffle oil – the essence of the world’s most expensive food item, a fungus that could sell for over $3,000 a pound. Why so exorbitant? Truffle is scarce, difficult to cultivate, and hard to find (pigs, dogs, and human are needed to find them).
“My first stuffing was binagoongan rice, then sisig rice, then truffle rice,” Dedet says. “All the stuffings I come up with are our favorite food.” She calls her lechon creations Pepita, her term of endearment for daughters Lauren, Lileya, and Liyora.
Dedet also shuns the traditional method. She uses a customized steel oven that is heated by coals. And she favors two-month old pigs so the skin is thin, there is less layer of fat, and the meat is still very tender.
This stuffed lechon was recently hailed as Asia’s best dish in London’s Chowzter awards by food experts and bloggers. To celebrate her victory, Dedet hosted an Independence Day dinner at her home, which was attended by a merry mix of culinary rock stars and food writers.
There’s nothing more delicious than a little irony to end the 116th Indepence Day celebrations. Feasting on “sosyal” lechons, after a day spent watching anti-pork barrel protests versus corrupt politicians, seems the right thing to do.
There were three lechons that night – the French Lechon, the Pinoy Lechon filled with laing rice (aptly dubbed “Lilian Laing” by writer Ige Ramos), and her new lechon stuffed with tocino rice, complemented with sidings of chopped fresh tomatoes and salted eggs.
Pepita's Lechon -- Bayaning Biik
Pinoy Lechon with Laing Rice
The best way to eat Pepita’s French Lechon is, of course, fresh from the oven. Thrust a knife into the ribs, listen to the crackle of crisp skin, and smell that truffle steam emitting from the cavity. Scoop out the flavored rice, grab some juicy meat along the way, and go back to your seat.
The scent of truffles, which is earthy, like pounds of mushrooms had been made into a concentrate, can be hypnotic. You will temporarily forget your friend. You will ignore that text message. You will tune out and just eat, chasing the pleasure, savoring the experience. In between mouthfuls, you will reach for that goblet of wine so the French lechon wouldn’t cloy.
Ashamed of such indulgence, you will question yourself, “Round two?” But you will yield and go back for seconds, sober and happier the next time.
If you’re anti-pork like some civil society groups, Dedet also makes lamb caldereta, shrimps with salted egg sauce, roasted bone marrow, and crab claws in aligue and butter sauce. And make sure to experience her cotton candy calamansi lambanog cocktail.
Hiplog - Shrimp in salted egg sauce
Sipit Sarap -- Crab claws in garlic sauce
Calamansi lambanog cocktail
But putting political, religious, and health beliefs aside, this is the best way to relish and split expensive pork many ways -- on the table, in the company good friends, and not via thievery.
Dedet de la Fuente with culinary icons Sandy Daza and Nina Daza-Puyat