The name says it all. Lechón is the Spanish word for suckling pig, a crisp-skinned, succulent glory enjoyed in Spain and throughout Spain’s former colonies. The cellophane-like crispness of the skin and the buttery richness and moistness of the meat are so prized that the dish has given its name to a spit-roasted chicken that shares these attributes. This is Filipino fast food at its best—you’ll find lechón manok shops on virtually every street in Manila. You order it through a window cut in the wall next to a charcoal-burning rotisserie. The vendor chops it into bite-size pieces with a cleaver on a well-used butcher block and serves it with the Philippines’ ubiquitous garlic-vinegar-soy dipping sauce. Here’s an easy lemongrass- and ginger-blasted version you can make at home. If you don’t have a rotisserie, you can grill it using the indirect method. Don’t be alarmed by the number of ingredients; the preparation time shouldn’t take you more than fifteen minutes.
1whole chicken (3½ to 4pounds)
¼cuppatis (fish sauce) or more soy sauce
¼cuprice wine or dry sherry
2tablespoonscalamansi juice (see the Calamansi Dipping Sauce here) or lime juice
1 medium-sizeonion, finely chopped
3clovesgarlic, finely chopped
2star anise, or ½teaspoonChinese five-spice powder
1teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium-size leek, trimmed and rinsed, or 2scallions
1piece (1inch) fresh ginger, flattened with the side of a cleaver
2tablespoonsannatto oil (see Note) or more vegetable oil, for basting
Remove and discard the fat just inside the body and neck cavities of the chicken. Remove the package of giblets and set it aside for another use. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water, then drain and blot it dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Place the bird in a deep bowl or large heavy-duty resealable plastic bag (the plastic bag isn’t strictly traditional, but it’s very effective for marinating).
Place the pineapple juice, soy sauce, patis, rice wine, vegetable oil, calamansi juice, onion, garlic, star anise, and pepper in a large nonreactive bowl and whisk to mix. Add the marinade to the chicken. Let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 6 hours or as long as 24, turning the chicken several times so it marinates evenly. The longer the chicken marinates, the richer the flavor will be.
Drain the chicken well, discarding the marinade. Using a cleaver, bruise the bulbs of the lemongrass, then fold them in half and place them in the body cavity of the chicken. Stuff the leek and ginger in the body cavity. Truss the bird with butcher’s string or a bamboo skewer (see box).
To grill: If you are using a rotisserie, set up the grill for spit roasting, following the manufacturer’s instructions, and preheat the grill to medium-high. When ready to cook, thread the chicken onto the rotisserie spit. Attach the spit to the grill and turn on the motor.
If you are using the indirect method, set up the grill for indirect grilling, place a drip pan in the center, and preheat the grill to medium. When ready to cook, place the chicken in the center of the grate over the drip pan and away from the heat and cover the grill.
Grill the bird until the skin is golden brown and crisp and the meat is cooked through, 1 to 1¼ hours. Use an instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness, inserting it into the thickest part of a thigh but not so that it touches a bone. The internal temperature should be about 170°F. Start basting the bird with annatto oil after 30 minutes, basting it every 10 minutes.
Transfer the grilled chicken to a cutting board and remove and discard the trussing string or skewer. Let the chicken rest, loosely tented with aluminum foil, for about 5 minutes. Chop the chicken into bite-size pieces with a cleaver. Serve the chicken with the Vinegar and Soy Dipping Sauce and/or the Calamansi Dipping Sauce, if desired.