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Lechona is a dish that originated in Colombia, South America. It consists of a whole pig that has been stuffed with an array of ingredients, including rice, onions, peas and pork fat. The entire stuffed pig is drenched in sour orange juice before it is sealed and prepared to cook. The cooking process for lechona involves the pig spending as many as 12 hours in an oven, although authentic preparation is done in an outdoor oven for an equal amount of time. Once completed, the crispy skin and moist stuffing are served with traditional Colombian side dishes such as thick tortillas called arepas and sweet corn tamales called insulsos.
Making lechona starts with a whole pig. The meat is removed from the pig's bones while leaving the skin and some meat underneath it intact so it can be stuffed. Next, the bones are carefully removed from the pig skin. This involves all the bones — including the skull — except the legs, which are left intact and will roast on their own in the oven.
Once the shell of the pig is boneless and stripped of its meat, it is cleaned and dried. The filling is made next. There will be little water inside the pig while roasting, so most of the filling ingredients need to be cooked ahead of time. For a very large pig, this can mean a considerable amount of cooking in batches to make enough to fill the cavity.
The lechona filling starts with cooked white rice. Peas also are added, although the specific type varies. Yellow peas, chick peas or even green peas can all be used as long as they are not dried when being added to the mixture. Raw onions are diced and included, as are spices to the taste of the cook. Potatoes, salt and pepper are mixed in before the final ingredient.
At this point, all the boneless meat from the pig is cut into pieces and is added to the filling. It does not have to be cooked like the other ingredients. Additional pork cutlets are sometimes added to the mixture to ensure that there is a fair distribution of meat in the dish. Pork fat or lard also is added to the filling so it remains moist.
The filling is stuffed into the hollow cavity of the boneless pig and the carcass is sealed by sewing or trussing it tightly. Sour orange juice is brushed on the skin, and the entire pig is placed in an oven over medium heat. When finished baking, because the pig is boneless, the lechona can be cut into like a roast and served. It is traditional to include pieces of the crispy, mahogany-colored skin with each serving.
Wow, that sounds really good, but also like a lot of work.
I do a lot of pigs in my la Caja China, and I'm sure I could do this recipe in it, but I may be too lazy to do so. Great article! - Perry P., author of “La Caja China Cooking” and "La Caja China World."
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