Filipino Barbecue: It’s in the Stuffing
It gives me great pleasure to introduce this month’s guest blogger, Alex Paman. You may recognize his name from the Barbecue Board (and from my book Planet Barbecue). Alex is my go to guy when I want to know more about Filipino barbecue. And Filipino barbecue is one of the world’s best-kept food secrets. The following makes me hungry just to read about and I bet it will you, too.
Lechon baboy (roast pig). The very words make a Filipino’s mouth water. Spit-roasted by a hot coconut shell fire, it is the culinary centerpiece of virtually all family get-togethers and community fiestas. With its trademark cracking-crisp skin and butter-tender meat, the lechon baboy is first presented whole, then either sliced into smaller pieces or kept intact for party guests to literally pick apart by hand.
The gold standard for this dish is said to be the island of Cebu, in the central Philippines. While lechon baboy is served traditionally with a liver-based dipping sauce in Manila, native Cebuanos contend that their roast pig is so good that it doesn’t need any sauce at all.
One key ingredient sometimes missed by casual diners, but taken for granted by Filipinos when making this dish, is lemongrass (known locally as tanglad). Part of the lechon baboy experience is its aroma, and this is achieved by stuffing the pig with stalks of lemongrass. As the pig cooks, the stalks inside impart a distinctive fragrance that perfumes the meat throughout the roasting session.
Depending on the size of the pig, lemongrass is either inserted whole in the cavity, or in bundles. A bundle is created two ways: if the stalk is short and trimmed, you simply peel the outer leaf layers off, then fold the stalk in three even segments. The peeled layers are then wrapped and tied around this bundle to keep it intact. However, if you have the entire lemongrass stalk (leaf tips and all), then it’s just a matter of folding it in three segments (two even and the tip segment longer) and then wrapping the long leaves around itself.
This technique is also applied to lechon manok (roast chicken) while cooking on the rotisserie.
Different regions in the Philippines add their own aromatic twist to the lemongrass formula when roasting pigs:
- In Cebu, the stuffing bundle consists of bay leaves, lemongrass, spring onions, star anise, garlic, and a little MSG. I’ve seen one place use lemongrass, green onions, and bay leaves, while another strictly a bundle of green onions and garlic.
- In neighboring Bacolod (home of the Philippines’ legendary Chicken Inasal), the lechon stuffing is tamarind, garlic, and lemongrass.
- In Tacloban (just outside of Leyte), the lechon stuffing is lemongrass, garlic, onion, and ginger.
Stuffing your roast pig or chicken with lemongrass is a wonderful way to add flavor and aroma to your barbecue. Try it the next time you roast a chicken or a turkey for Thanksgiving .
Note: Aromatics are just that—ingredients used solely to impart aroma. When stuffing pigs or chickens with lemongrass and other ingredients, please don’t consume them. Remove and discard these items from the cavities after the roasting process.
Manila-born Alex G. Paman has been researching Filipino barbecue for over 20 years. He works diligently to introduce the Philippines’ barbecue traditions to mainstream American cuisine.