December 25, 2014
It Tastes Like Cebu Lechon But It’s Liempo!
During a birthday party of one of my uncles, my Mom was seated in front of a Cebu lechon. As we got into the car to drive home, she stated, “We can make liempo [pork belly] that tastes like that lechon.” The rest of the drive home was spent dissecting flavors and tossing ideas back and forth on how to make it possible. We spent the next week eating our liempo experiments until we found the best formula.
Marinating, although seemingly antithetical to the whole idea of a freshly slaughtered pig turning into a lechon, seems to be the secret step in making Cebu lechon. Stuffing the cavity of a freshly slaughtered pig with lemongrass is not enough to give it that distinct through and through flavor. During the course of marination, the flesh and skin will lose the pinkish cast associated with freshly slaughtered meat. During a TV episode where Anthony Bourdain goes to Cebu to eat lechon, I paid attention to what the pig looked like while it was being roasted. Sure enough, it was more white than pink.
The Slow Marinating Procedure below is the first method we used to successfully make this dish. My friends enjoyed it so much, I had to find a faster way to make this dish and developed the Fast Marinating Procedure. Either will taste delicious.
- 4 bundles lemongrass
- 2 large white onions
- 1 packet sinigang flavor mix
- 4 cups (946 milliliters) water
- whole black peppercorns to taste, start with 1 tablespoon
- salt to taste, start with 1 teaspoon
- 1 kilo whole pork belly (liempo)
- rock salt
- cooking oil
Specialized Equipment if Using Slow Marinating Procedure:
- Meat Syringe or Flavor Injector – you can also use a 1 ½” long needle medical syringe (make sure it has only been used on food or is unused)
- Large resealable freezer bag
Pork Preparation Procedure:
- Clean the pork belly.
- Cut one-inch squares into the skin. When cutting the skin, you should cut through the skin and fat, and leave the meat immediately below it uncut. Set aside for marinating procedure.
- Clean lemongrass leaves. Cut off the green portion of the lemongrass from the hard whitish portion. Discard the green part of the lemongrass. With a mallet or other hard object, pound the hard whitish portion of lemongrass until soft. Set aside.
- Peel and cut onions in half. Set aside.
- Get a large pot and add water. Add onions, pounded lemongrass, peppercorns, salt, and sinigang flavor mix. Stir until sinigang flavor mix has dissolved.
- Taste for sourness.
- Choose which marinating procedure to use from the instructions below.
Slow Marinating Procedure:
- Simmer prepared marinade for 30 minutes over low heat. Allow marinade to cool. Strain the marinade to separate liquid from solids. Discard separated solids.
- Place the pork belly on a large tray.
- Draw up marinade into a meat syringe and inject marinade into the meat. Inject the marinade throughout the meat.
- Place the pork belly in a large resealable freezer bag. Add the remaining marinade into the bag. Slowly close the bag while removing as much of the air inside as possible.
- Lay the bag flat on a large tray with the pork belly’s skin side up and place in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
- Remove pork belly from refrigerator. Collect excess marinade in freezer bag to use in the next step.
- Repeat Step 3.
- Return the pork belly to the freezer bag. Add the remaining marinade to the bag. Slowly close the bag while removing as much of the air inside as possible.
- Lay the bag flat on a large tray with the pork belly’s skin side down and place in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
- Remove pork belly from refrigerator. Collect excess marinade in freezer bag to use in next step.
- Repeat Steps 3-9. The longer you marinate the pork belly, the more flavorful it becomes. Repeat the marination steps for 3-7 days.
- Remove pork belly from marinade. Discard marinade. Allow excess liquid to drain from pork belly.
Fast Marinating Procedure:
- Add pork belly to marinade in pot. Simmer pork belly over low heat until you can pierce the meat with a fork and encounter little to no resistance.
- Remove pork belly from pot and allow to cool. Discard cooking liquid. Allow excess liquid to drain from pork belly.
- Preheat oven to 450ºF.
- Rub rock salt all over marinated pork belly. Make sure you put salt in between the cuts you made on the skin.
- Put some cooking oil on your hands and rub it onto the skin.
- Place a roasting rack on top of a tray to catch the drippings. Place the salted pork belly with skin side up on the roasting rack. Put it in the oven. Set your timer to 20 minutes.
- When timer rings, lower oven temperature to 200ºF. Set your timer to 30 minutes.
- When timer rings, raise oven temperature to 450ºF. Set your timer to 20 minutes.
- Repeat Steps 4-5 until the pork belly skin is crispy. To test for crispiness, tap on the skin with a spoon. It should sound hollow when tapped.
- Remove the roasted pork belly from the oven. Rest the roast for 20-30 minutes. Carve meat into serving portions.
- Serve with Tomato Salted Duck Egg Saucy Salad.
Photos by Rica Palomo-Espiritu
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7 Comments on “It Tastes Like Cebu Lechon But It’s Liempo!”
lembest says May 5, 2014 at 11:22 pm
Lechon liempo really is a mouth watering meal 😀 thank you for sharing.. i have a simple recipe too and made it my business
kiwi_mom says December 4, 2014 at 4:11 am
What’s the oven setting used; grill or bake? Cheers!
Data_admin says January 1, 2015 at 12:40 am
It’s bake. 🙂
Data_admin says January 1, 2015 at 12:39 am
Definitely a must try! Opted on the fast marinating procedure for our noche Buena this year (I boiled the pork in the marinade in a pot on medium heat at 1 hour per side [since our pot was small I cant fill it with marinade as it will overflow], then stored the slabs in the fridge for 48 hours). It was a success! The crispy lechon skin killed it! The meat was tender and flavourful and the pork fat melts in your mouth. Will cook this for our media noche later. 🙂
elmer says June 27, 2015 at 12:59 pm
lee says February 15, 2015 at 11:31 am
the skin is white on the left part..that’s tough i went to cebu and i know how does lechon cebu looks like…the lechon cebu doesnt have lemon grass and all LANG there’s a way on how to prepare it…accupunture for foreigners as they call it.the skin on cebu’s lechon separates from the meat.the liempo even here is different.not like that…that seems really hard
MP says June 19, 2015 at 10:28 am
@lee – RE: lechon cebu doesnt have lemon grass
You’re wrong. Lemon grass is a MUST for Cebu lechon. I should know. I’m Cebuano.