The Ultimate Lechon vs. Cochinillo Showdown

Filipino lechon on the left side and Cochinillo on the right.

The roasted pig is such a universal meaning of celebration that even the act of cooking brings people together. Today, Lechon and Cochinillo enter the culinary arena and one satisfied eater leaves!

Significance of roast pig across diverse cultures

For the Chinese, it’s called Sui Yuk, and it’s a wish for good luck during a new business launch. Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander people, where pigs spread through migration, have distinct traditions attached to the roasted pig.

In Indonesia, the non-Muslim populations have a variety of names for the roast pig: babi guling, babi putar, babi panggang, and babi bakar. The Batak people have a tradition of hosting a pig roast for the bride’s family as a kind gesture before the wedding.

The Spanish brought the roasted pig all over their former colonies. People of Latin American descent hold pig roasts during Christmas and New Year. They also have roasts year-round, especially during summer when the weather is perfect for a barbecue party.

The United Kingdom also brings out a large roasted pig in large celebrations and cooks them over a large flame while turning over. In the United States, roasting a whole pig is more popular in the southern states, where they can make the pigs roam free.

Of course, one can’t leave out the Philippines when talking about roasted pigs. The tradition is far older than Spanish colonization and has a uniquely Filipino blend.

The Lechon is not the only roast pig we have in the country, though. A contender for the best roast challenges the lechon: the Cochinillo, a suckling pig roast with tender meat and buttery skin.

Welcome to the culinary theater where crackling skin meets succulent meat, and two roast pig titans, Lechon and Cochinillo, take center stage in an epic gastronomic showdown. 

Imagine the air thick with the tantalizing aroma of roasting pits, as we journey through the cultural tapestries that have woven these delectable delights into the fabric of Filipino and Spanish celebrations.

Lechon, with its crispy skin and juicy meat, has long been the heart of joyous occasions in the Philippines, while Cochinillo, the Spanish delicacy, carries centuries of tradition, gracing tables during religious ceremonies and lively feasts. 

The ultimate Lechon vs. Cochinillo showdown awaits, promising a feast for the senses and a celebration of culinary mastery!

Let’s first look at how roast pigs have been woven into Filipino and Spanish celebrations.

Filipino banquet on banana leaves. Lechon is in the middle. lechon cochinillo

The Philippine lechon is unique. While it bears its Spanish name, the roasted pig of the Philippines has its roots back in pre-colonial times.  A nation’s food reflects its history, and no other cuisine reflects it more than the Filipinos.

In a typical Filipino banquet, one would see the Filipino-Chinese fusion of Pancit or its regional variants like the Pancit Malabon. The Filipino Spaghetti is also one. Brought tangy by the Americans, made sweeter for the Filipino palate.

No big Filipino celebration is complete without a large roasted pig, the Lechon, present on the table. From fiestas to weddings, the lechon indicates only good things.

On the other hand, the Spanish Cochinillo, also called Lechon Asado, is also often eaten during celebrations, especially in Latin America. During religious festivals, the Cochinillo can be found served to the crowds.

The names Lechon de Asado and Cochinillo are used interchangeably in the Latin American region. Each country adds its native spices and twists to its version of Cochinillo. Peru has Lechon al Palo, where they marinate the meat first before roasting it over an open flame or a rotisserie. Since Spain brought the Cochinillo to its colonies, it has evolved to take on many forms to fit the palate of the local population.

The Battle of Flavors

Now, how do these two differ in terms of preparation? These two might be roasted pigs, but they have their subtleties when it comes to preparations that give off all the difference.

The Philippines has two prominent versions of the lechon, the Luzon and the Visayas or Cebuano.

The Luzon lechon has a simple preparation. They rub salt and pepper on the skin, leave the stomach unstuffed, and rely heavily on the liver sauce. Mang Tomas is probably the most well-known partner for lechon eating. La Loma in Quezon City is the lechon center of the Luzon variety, where they even hold an annual lechon fiesta every May.

The Visayas or Cebuano Lechon add more flavor and aromatics to their pigs. They remove the innards and stuff the pig with a blend of lemongrass or tanglad, cracked black pepper, salt, and vinegar. They use charcoal made out of coconut husks to cook it and infuse more flavor. It’s paired with vinegar since the pig is already so salty. 

Cochinillo on earthenware in oven. lechon cochinilloFor the Cochinillo, many butcher markets and butcher shops in Spain offer Cochinillo Asado. The shops already clean the piglets entirely and leave out their kidneys. Their process usually involves cutting the pig’s stomach and the backbone’s center, and then they clean out the interior part. 

In some recipes, they coat the pig in batter alongside pork fat and a few laurel leaves, while in others, they use white wine during the preparation process to increase the meat’s tenderness, or they marinate the meat for several days and dehydrate them on the day of the roasting process. 

When the Cochinillo is cooked with the skin on, the thin layer of fat seeps into the meat and, together with the milk diet of the pig, produces a taste that’s earthy, creamy, and reminiscent of the farm in a good way.

The Cochinillo has a lot of regional variations, but no one takes it more seriously than the Spanish region of Segovia. They strictly require that the pig should not be older than three weeks, and the carcass must weigh between 3.8 and 5.8 kilograms for it to bear the Cochinillo de Segovia brand.

The Art of Roasting

How do they differ in roasting techniques?

Man in red shirt and green shorts roasting multiple pigs

Lechon can be cooked in two ways: through open pit roasting or the oven.

During fiestas, people gather around to cook multiples of lechon. In a way, it becomes a community-building activity, especially in the provinces. Wood charcoal is usually used for Luzon lechon, while charcoal made out of coconut husks is preferred by Visayas lechon-makers.

Lechon can also be made through an oven. The most used part of this cooking method is the belly portion of the pork. The meat is first seasoned and then thoroughly dried out by placing it in the refrigerator uncovered overnight and patted dry to remove excess moisture. It is roasted in the oven at 160 degrees Celsius for about three hours, and then, for the crispy skin, it is left in the oven for 30 minutes at 220 degrees Celsius.                                                                                     

The Cochinillo can also be cooked through the oven or open pit. The whole piglet is traditionally cooked in an oven on an earthenware pot. Socarrat NYC, a Cochinillo maker in New York, recommends the Cochinillo to be cooked slow and low – at 135 degrees Celsius to 150 degrees Celsius (275 degrees Fahrenheit to 300 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature of the thickest part of the pig should clock in at 71 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit). 

This whole roasting process should take at least four hours for a 9.07 kilogram (20 pounds) of pig. The meat should be blasted at a maximum temperature — 260 degrees Celsius (500 degrees Fahrenheit) for an even crispier experience.

Texture and Presentation

Now, we’ll look at how they differ in texture and presentation.

The ideal lechon comes with a crispy skin and tender, succulent meat. Maintaining the skin’s dryness while keeping the meat’s moisture is a delicate balancing act. Chefs have recommended that to achieve crispy skin, patting the skin dry before roasting and ensuring the pig is well-scored. Some methods involve brushing the skin with a mixture of oil and salt for added crispiness. Lechoneros keeps the meat juicy by avoiding overcooking and basting it with a flavorful liquid while roasting it. 

Cochinillo being sliced by porcelain plate. lechon cochinillo

Meanwhile, meat so delicate that it’s sliceable by a porcelain plate covered by a buttery crisp skin is emblematic of a good Cochinillo. The pig is typically served whole and on an earthenware plate with an apple on top of the piglet’s snout.

Sometimes, the pig is accompanied by side dishes like roasted potatoes, vegetables, or a simple salad that complements the flavorful Cochinillo. Other plating and serving traditions for the Cochinillo involve accompanying it with sauces like Salsa Verde or Chimichurri that provide a zesty contrast to the richness of the pork.

Conclusion

To sum it up, both the lechon and the Cochinillo have important symbolism and are a part of many traditions. They also share similar yet different cooking methods that give them their distinct tastes resulting in varying textures and presentations. Whatever you may have for your wedding, birthday, or any kind of celebration, both are a delight to have. 

So, take a seat at the table of global flavors, and let the harmonious symphony of Filipino and Spanish roast pigs unfold before you. Indulge, relish, and celebrate the unity of diverse culinary delights — for in the world of Lechon and Cochinillo, every bite is an invitation to appreciate the beauty of cultural diversity on a plate. 

Thinking of including a roast pig in your celebration? Plan your wedding, debut, or event with Hizon’s Restaurant and Catering! Different wedding packages in Quezon City are available to suit your wedding planning needs and planning guides to help you plan for your perfect event.

Do you have your preparation methods for Lechon and Cochinillo? Celebrate the harmony of Filipino Lechon and Spanish Cochinillo with us. 

Share your roast pig experiences using #HizonRoastPigFiesta and join the feast of diverse flavors. Every bite is an invitation to savor the beauty of cultural diversity. Cheers to a Roast Pig Fiesta! 

About Hizon's Catering

For more than 30 years , we have been blessed to be a part of thousands of weddings, debuts, kids parties, corporate events, and private celebrations. In all these events, we make sure we are not only your caterer but more importantly your partner in every step from conceptualizing, budgeting and planning up to final execution.

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