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How To Make Lechon Asado the Healthy Way


I grew up watching whole pigs slowly spinning over an open fire, their succulent aroma filling the entire neighborhood. It’s one of the most vivid memories of my childhood in Puerto Rico:  looking up at a giant pig carcass hanging from a hook in my abuelo’s backyard, and watching him carefully wash its intestines in a tub to get them ready to make morcilla—blood sausage. Watching this unfold meant happiness and a celebration of family. It also meant we were all about to eat some of the tastiest—and freshest—meat in the world.  Not to mention gaining the health benefits of consuming a leaner meat like pork.

The art of roasting the pig is still done today in parts of Puerto Rico, as well as in Cuba and other Latin countries. And the tradition of the “lechon” lives on, at restaurants, in homes in the U.S.  for special occasions. But today, with most people getting their pork from a supermarket, it’s hard to tell which cuts are fresh.

So here’s what to look for when you can’t choose your own from a farm: First, raw pork should always be bright pink. The fat should be plump and white, and should coat the surface of the meat, with a little bit of marbling. If it’s at all discolored (with a slight green tint), or crusty and dry, put it back! Even if the “sell by” date says is days away, if your meat looks stale, it probably is. Second, make sure it passes the sniff test: A strong, pungent smell is a good indication that it’s not fresh. It should have a subtle, meaty smell from a few inches away. Anything more noticeable than that is probably not good. Third, the meat should be moist and feel firm to the touch. And last, never buy any packaged food that’s been torn or opened.

Thanks to some tough regulations, most meat here in the U.S. is relatively safe. But the FDA has very specific rules for cooking pork , red meat or poultry. And by following these guidelines, you will help to kill any viruses or bacteria that may be living within the meat. According to the FDA:

  • Cook  beef, pork, veal and lamb until it reaches a temperature of 160° F.
  • Cook poultry at a temperature of 165°F.
  • Ham is a cured meat, so the required temperature is slightly different; cook it completely at 160° F, or pre-cook at 140° F.
  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat.
  • Wash all utensils with hot, soapy water after preparing the meat.
  • Refrigerate or freeze cooked meat within 2 hours of cooking.

There are some additional things I like to do, in order to increase the healthiness of traditional Puerto Rican meals like lechon. I trim as much fat as I can from the meat before cooking, and I try to buy cuts that are naturally low in fat, like pork tenderloin.

Here’s how I remixed this traditional “lechon,” with its meat from the refrigerated section. I think my abuelo would be proud.

My Healthy Lechon Recipe

This recipe has all the flavor of traditional Lechon Asado, with a fraction of the fat. All by just using a cut of pork with a lower fat content.

  • 1 (4 lbs) boneless pork tenderloin
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 3 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Trim any excess fat off the tenderloin. Cut 1 inch slits into the meat, all over. Mix the rest of the ingredients together. Place the loin in a large freezer bag, or a large bowl. Pour the spice mixture on top, rubbing it into all the slits and all over the meat. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours, overnight is best. Place tenderloin in a preheated oven at 450° F for 30 minutes. Next, reduce the heat to 400 °F and roast for 1 hour. Using an instant-read thermometer, check to see it has reached 160°F degrees. Pull out of the oven and let it rest for 20 minutes, so the juices get redistributed.

Serve sliced with a side of Quinoa salad or Yucca En Escabeche.

Provided by our friends at VidaVibrante

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  • July 13, 2013

    Great recipe. You really do get all the flavors of traditional lechon with not nearly as fat or prep time.

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