I know this post is going to offend some readers. So, I’m placing this little warning here. If you’re among that part of the population that doesn’t condone the cooking and eating of cute, baby animals, please don’t scroll down. If, however, like S and me, you live to eat and absolutely love the idea of tucking into a gorgeously roasted suckling pig, keep reading.
It’s no secret that both S and I love pork. It is most definitely my favourite meat. A healthy portion of the recipes found on this site are pig-dishes. And when S and I recently combed through the two leather-bound books in which we archive our menus, we discovered, not too surpisingly, that we almost always serve at least one pork dish when entertaining.
Over our years together, we’ve prepared pork in many different ways. And while we’ve long considered ourselves pretty pig-proficient, there was always one style–one rather amazing dish–that we would often talk about but never got around to making. Truth be told, I always found the idea of roasting our own suckling pig hugely daunting.
I’m not sure why, but I had always assumed that preparing a roasted, whole suckling pig would be incredibly difficult, time-consuming and complex. The idea, quite simply, scared me. It’s the kind of dish you could eat in a restaurant but not the kind of thing you’d make for a Sunday lunch. Then S came home with a copy of Fergus Henderson’s Beyond Nose to Tail: More Omnivorous Recipes for the Adventurous Cook and declared that we should attempt his amusingly worded Roast Whole Suckling Pig recipe.
What S and I discovered is that roasting a piglet is one of the easiest things we’ve ever done in our kitchen. The hardest part, in fact, was getting over how cute the raw piglet was. Our suckling pig was delivered frozen. It was wrapped tightly in plastic with its front trotters tucked under its chin. When we unwrapped it, it rather pathetically sat on our counter top, looking more like a sleeping pet than a future meal.
Prepping one’s piglet is easy. We were, admitedly, lucky. Our pig came gutted and cleaned. Our only chore was removing its kidneys, setting them aside for our stuffing, and salting the beast inside and out. To supplement Fergus’ recipe (which is entertaining but rather low on details) we also consulted the very detailed, illustrated notes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two.
Making Henderson’s stuffing took just 20 minutes. It is essentially a confit of red onions and red wine, mixed with stale bread, the pig’s kidneys and some herbs. While we enjoyed it, S has decided that when we next roast another pig, she’ll substitute Henderson’s stuffing for a more Asian glutinous rice mixture studded with shitake mushrooms, chestnuts, dried shrimp, dark soy sauce and salted duck egg yolks (like a rice dumpling or bak chang).
We decided to slow-roast our little piggy for just under 4 hours. It came out beautifully. We were thrilled. The skin was crisp, thin and easy to both cut and bite into. The meat was flavourful, tender and moist. It was fantastic. We served our suckling pig with some asparagus (simply blanched and then seasoned with sea salt and pepper) and a rich, sinful gratin dauphinois spiked with Comte and Beaufort D’Alpage. With all this, we offered our friends the choice between a lovely, light, sweet and zingy Gralyn Racy Red wine and a yummy, slightly savoury and refreshing Weihenstephan wheat beer.
Roast Whole Suckling Pig
inspired by a recipe from Beyond Nose to Tail: More Omnivorous Recipes for the Adventurous Cook
by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly
1 small suckling pig, gutted and cleaned, with the kidneys left within
sea salt and black pepper
4 red onions
a dollop of duck fat
375ml red wine
kidneys of the pig, chopped
1/2 loaf of day-old white bread, cubed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
8 sage leaves, chopped
A day before cooking, salt and pepper your piglet liberally (we used around 6 tablespoons of salt), both inside and out, and place it uncovered on a wire rack, over a tray, and into your fridge. You want it to be cool and dry.
Cook the red onions in duck fat over low heat until the onions are soft. Pour in the red wine. Let this simmer and reduce until the mixture becomes a yummy, dark red confit. If you find that the onions are becoming a tad dry but aren’t soft enough, you can add a little bit of water to the pan and keep cooking. Add the chopped-up kidneys to the mix. Then add pieces of bread and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Take off the heat and add the garlic and sage. Set aside until cool to the touch.
When ready, stuff your piglet. Turn your piglet over onto its back and fill the cavity with the stuffing. Sew as much of your piglet shut as you can. I used kitchen twine and a large needle and was able to sew up about two-thirds of its front.
Preheat your oven with the fan on to 150 degrees Celsius. If you don’t have a fan function, heat to 160 degrees Celsius.
Lightly oil a roasting pan or oven tray and place your piglet on it, “sphinx-like”, i.e. belly down, with its legs close to but on the side of the body. Shove a small ball of aluminium foil into the piglet’s mouth. Also wrap the piggy’s ears in foil. Rub a healthy amount of olive oil all over the piglet’s back and sprinkle a little more sea salt over it. Pop it into your oven and roast for between 3 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours. We roasted ours for 3 hours 40 minutes and then turned off the heat in our oven, but left the fan on, and left it inside for another 30 minutes. Note, if you don’t have a fan-assisted oven, you may want to spin your pan around after about 2 hours.
Your pig’s skin should be crisp and the meat tender and moist. Carve it at the table or inside your kitchen. Enjoy!