Lisu Spice-Rubbed Roast Pork

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

The Lisu are one of many distinctive cultural groups who live in the mountains of southwestern Yunnan province, high above the valleys of the Mekong and Salween Rivers. Their language is Tibeto-Burman and they follow the Chinese calendar (celebrating Lunar New Year, for example, when the Chinese do, in late January or early February). Traditionally they live by raising pigs and cultivating rice. At New Year’s and other celebrations, pork and sticky rice are the main foods. The pork is roasted over coals or cooked in broth, then served on a large communal platter to accompany mounds of steamed sticky rice or grilled sticky rice cakes. We adapted this recipe for spice-rubbed pork, originally cooked over glowing coals, for cooking as a roast in an oven; we call for a little lard to compensate for the leaner pork that is now standard in North America.

The combination of peppery fresh nutmeg and Sichuan pepper makes a knockout spice rub for pork (you can also use it on lamb). The pork comes out of the oven with a delicious salty spiced crust and moist interior. Serve with sticky rice or plain rice, and a vegetable dish such as  Market Stall Fresh Tomato Salsa. Put out a condiment or salad as an accompaniment, such as chopped pickled mustard greens, Tenzin’s Quick-Pickled Radish Threads, or Hani Soy Sprout Salad.

GRILLED SPICE-RUBBED PORK: You can come closer to the original fire-cooked pork of the Lisu if you cook the meat over a charcoal grill. Use pork butt or loin cut crosswise into ¾- to 1-inch thick slabs. Rub on both sides with the spice blend, then grill slowly (over medium heat), turning the meat once partway through, and basting it with a little lard or oil to keep it moist, until it is cooked through (20 to 30 minutes). Thinly slice before serving.

Serves5 to 6 as a main course

Cooking Methodroasting



Total Timeunder 2 hours

OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationdiabetic, egg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, low carb, peanut free, soy free

Five Ingredients or LessYes


Taste and Texturemeaty, nutty, salty, savory, smoky, spiced


  • About 2 tablespoons lard or bacon drippings
  • About 1½ pounds boneless pork butt or loin, no more than 2 inches thick at its thickest
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1½ teaspoons dry-roasted Sichuan peppercorns, ground
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Use a little of the lard or bacon drippings to grease the bottom of a roasting pan.

  2. Rinse off the meat and dry thoroughly. Set aside.

  3. Put all the spices and the salt in a small bowl and stir to mix well. Use your fingertips to rub the spice blend all over the meat. Place the meat in the roasting pan with its largest surface facing up. With your fingers or a spoon, dab the remaining lard or drippings all over the top of the meat.

  4. Roast for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until cooked through (timing will vary with the thickness of the meat; if it is 2 inches at its thickest point, it will take closer to an hour). Remove and let stand for 5 minutes. Thinly slice the meat. If you wish, deglaze the pan with a little water and pour the pan gravy over the slices of meat.



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