Lechon-style roast pork belly

Lechon-style roast pork belly

Lechon liempo

7000 Islands
Jana Liebenstein

In 2009, following his time in the country filming the television hit No Reservations, host and critic Anthony Bourdain ranked the Philippines at number one in his ‘Hierarchy of Pork’. A special mention went to lechon, which he praised as the best whole-roasted pig in the world. Filipinos swelled with pride; the fiesta dish, long a national favourite, was now an international star.

Bourdain shot part of the show in Cebu, where he tried the region’s famed ‘lechon Cebuano’, prepared by Joel Binamira. The local blogger now has a chain of restaurants, Zubuchon. Binamira kindly spent a day explaining the ins and outs of succulent, crisp-skinned, lemongrass-fragrant lechon. This do-at-home recipe is inspired by my time there and is one of his specialties: lechon-style roast pork belly.


Quantity Ingredient
2kg boneless pork belly with skin on
35g salt flakes, plus extra to season
2 lemongrass stems, halved lengthwise and bruised, white part only
2 thin wedges pineapple
2 long red chillies
1 garlic bulb, cloves peeled and bruised
1 red onion, cut into thin wedges
2 leeks, trimmed, halved and thickly sliced lengthwise, white part only
olive oil, for drizzling
Garlic and vinegar dipping sauce, to serve
or Pickled green papaya, to serve


  1. Using a Stanley knife or very sharp small knife, score the pork skin at 1.5 cm intervals (pour boiling water over the skin to soften and pat dry with paper towel, if necessary). Place on a tray, skin side up. Scatter over the salt and rub it into the cuts. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 3 hours, or preferably overnight, to dry the skin.
  2. Preheat the oven to 130ºC. Place the pork, skin side down, on a clean work surface. Season the pork generously with extra salt flakes and freshly cracked black pepper. Place the lemongrass, pineapple, chillies, garlic and half of the onion and leek across the centre of the pork. Roll up the pork lengthwise to enclose the filling, securing at intervals with kitchen string. Place the remaining onion and leek in a small pile in the centre of a roasting tin and arrange the pork on top, skin side up. Generously drizzle olive oil over the pork and, using your hands, massage it into the skin and sides.
  3. Roast the pork in the oven for 3 hours, or until it is just cooked — it should reach 170ºC on a kitchen thermometer and the juices should run clear when pierced with a knife in the thickest part. Increase the oven temperature to 200ºC. Drain the fat from the tin, then roast for a further 20 minutes, or until the skin is blistered and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
  4. Gently remove the crackling and break into large pieces, then set aside. Carve the pork into slices, discarding the lemongrass and chillies and reserving the remaining filling, if desired, to serve with the pork, crackling and dipping sauce.

Where does it come from?

  • The term lechón, meaning ‘suckling pig’ in Spanish and derived from the word leche for milk, can be found throughout Spain’s former colonies, including Puerto Rico, along with variations of whole spit-roasted pig. In the Philippines, the dish is said to have arrived during Spanish colonial rule; however, there is evidence natives were eating coal-roasted pork before their arrival. Today, lechon (also litson) describes a process of roasting, which can be applied to any animal, for example, lechon manok (roasted chicken). Lechon baboy, with regional variations, is the crown jewel. In Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog, it is accompanied with a sweet and vinegary liver sauce. In Cebu, pig is stuffed with various aromatics and the perfumed flesh needs only a simple vinegar dipping sauce.
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