December 23, 2009
Christmas came early for us this year (at least the dinner part, anyway!) We invited friends Kazia, Carina and Julio, Ruth and Brit, and Larry to join us in celebrating an Argentinean Christmastime feast. The dinner: all of the traditional holiday favorites, Argentina style. The menu included:
Onion and Roquefort Empanadas
Pionono with Tuna, Roasted Red Peppers and Olives
Lechon (Roast Suckling Pig)
Pionono with Dulce de Leche
Fernet and Coke
Plenty of Malbec
(This post will give the recipe for Lechon with it's Chimichurri, the other recipes will follow in other posts.)
(Photo courtesy of Ruth Tobias, aka Denveater)
If these are strange to Americans as Christmas or holiday dishes, we can't forget that December in Argentina is hot-as-blazes-summer. Dishes like fresh stuffed tomatoes, potato salad and barbecue are welcome and refreshing. These specialties might make us feel like we're in the midst of summer, but we're really coming to the close of one year and starting another. I find myself reflecting…and, in a way, confessing.
The reason I began cooking and why I continue to do so is because I fear it.
I left home at 18 not knowing how to cook much of anything; maybe an egg and some pasta. A new, "scary" recipe formerly brought anxiety, fear, and then; abandonment. I wouldn't try recipes that were too difficult, recipes where I might fail, things that would turn out inedible or just plain bad. Giving up was just so much easier, the effort seemed too great. Ok, lazy. I was too lazy.
But then I got hungry and curious–at least, I wanted to replicate tastes I enjoyed elsewhere. And of course, I met Guillermo, and his Argentinean culture became a part of my life, too.
Now, still, a new, 'scary' recipe comes along. It intimidates. I get a familiar tight feeling in my stomach. Thoughts flash through my mind: Ugh. Too much. Too much time, effort…why bother? What if it doesn't turn out? What if it's an UTTER FAILURE? It takes too long, it's just too hard…but then, a turning point.
I read the recipe.
Step by step, all the way through. Breaking it down, each step makes it less intimidating. Julia Child famously said "Anyone who can read can cook." Mark Bittman, in similar fashion, has said that in order to successfully make a dish, one has to read a recipe through from start to finish to really get how to make it. Step by step, a recipe isn't so intimidating, right?
Lechon (Suckling Pig) is a recipe that has intimidated me since the early days of my romance with my husband, when I heard that it was a traditional dish in Argentina to celebrate Christmas. Where would I even buy a suckling pig, and once home, how would I make it?
I guess we could call Lechon our little Christmas miracle! It's a recipe that's made me believe. I believe that it's not as hard as I thought it was, it's not as unusual, it's a wonderful way to celebrate Christmas! And it's definitely delicious–Julio said, after his first bite, that he could die happily now–a sentiment agreed on around the table!
Now, conquer your fear and jump in.
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We purchased our Lechon from a local Latin market called Carniceria Guadalajara. Though its clientele is mostly Mexican, the owner is Argentinean. Estimate about 1 lb. of meat per person. We bought a 20 lb. Lechon (which cost around $100) and was frozen. We had them cut it in fourths so it would fit in our oven and we prepared half of it. The traditional way to cook Lechon is in a clay oven with wood, removing the logs when they are very, very hot and cooking the pig with the coals. Alas, with our set up, the oven, set on Bake to the highest temperature was our fix. It didn't result in the same crackled skin that a clay oven's heat does, but the meat was juicy and delicious. We defrosted it by leaving it in a pan on the counter (wrapped in plastic).
1 suckling pig, 1 lb per person (cut to specifications by butcher)
2 flat aluminum oven liners
coarse salt, to taste
For the Chimichurri Marinade
juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup water
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
Defrost the lechon overnight if necessary. Preheat the oven to the highest setting. Wash the lechon thoroughly under cold running water, and drain well. One hour before placing in the oven, squeeze the juice of 2 to 3 lemons over the lechon (while in a roasting pan) and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
Perforate one of the oven liners with holes. (The lechon will be placed on this tray, while the other tray with no holes will be on the rack below to catch all the drippings.) Place the lechon on the perforated tray and place in the oven. Our 10 lb. lechon cooked for about 2 and a half hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the Chimichurri Marinade by combining all of the ingredients in a bowl. About 15 minutes before the lechon is done (but not before, since the garlic will get bitter), pour the Chimichurri over the lechon.
When the lechon is done, remove to a tray and carve. Serve right away, it doesn't need to rest.