Because Christmas is, essentially, a winter holiday, meat has played a key role in Yuletide feasts since time immemorial. Here in the Philippines, while ham is the centerpiece of either the Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) or Media Noche (New Year’s Eve) table, other roasts, bakes, and braises also make their way to seasonal gatherings.
Lechon – that most decadent whole roasted suckling pig – remains king in this regard. Even the most hard-core vegans find themselves drooling at the sight of this most magnificent of roasts. Golden-brown skin crisp and gleaming, tender meat simply seasoned with salt with the subtle, almost floral fragrance of fresh lemongrass, it is seriously close to perfection. Proper lechoneros make their own sweetish brown liver sauce to dribble over the carved chunks of pork and crackling; at this time of year, bottled Mang Tomas should never even be considered. Fresh-roasted, it goes down a treat on plain hot rice or with an ice-cold beer as part of a pulutan [bar snack] assortment. Leftovers are best sliced thinly and added to pasta sauces or tucked into buns with some whole-grain mustard for sandwiches. If you come from a traditional family like I do, leftovers will be cooked down with the liver sauce, some vinegar, peppercorns, and a bay leaf to make that unbeatable stew paksiw na lechon.
Beef, normally a rarity on many Philippine tables, takes center-stage in numerous homes during the Christmas season. But no beef Wellingtons, no roast barons of beef, no chateaubriands are these; rather, beef is stewed down with other ingredients into grand, Spanish-style braises.
You have caldereta, that hearty, spicy stew with potatoes, carrots, and sliced bell peppers. You have that egg, pickle, and cheese-stuffed roulade called morcon with its savory gravy. Then you have mechado – so named because of the lardons (mecha – wicks) of pork fat threaded into the center of the cut of beef – cooked with a rich, slightly sweet, dark-brown gravy. However which way you have your beef, the ubiquitous plain rice is certainly a must.
Given the adventurous streak my family has (given last year’s crown roast of pork), we had to have at least one unusual meat dish. This year, it was a whole roast duck from The Classic Roast. The rich meat went down a treat with the annual paella for a truly grand, festive meal.
So, what’d your family serve for Christmas?